Isn’t it remarkable how things link together?
Whilst deciding whether to finish Lionel Shriver’s Post-Birthday World or not, a notification came through from Hillingdon Library on 3 books about birthdays. The latter clearly for the younger reader.
I’ve been torn about the Post-Birthday World. I got to chapter 3 part 1 and thought ‘what is going on here’. Chapter 1 was fine, chapter 2 seemed to be duplicated and now chapter 3 seems to be heading the same way. So I did the unthinkable, in my case, I read the blurb on the back of the book – no clue there, nothing on the front cover I’d missed and eventually I found something in the piece about the author which said there was a parallel universe – two different scenarios of the same thing.
Lionel didn’t want to write one book or two separate books but to explore the two worlds simulataneously. Well, this might work for the author, but it didn’t work for this reader. In case you’re wondering I started the book as a bookgroup read. Having started this write-up and having found what others have said about it, I might still go back and finish the last chapter but will definitely not read the rest of the book. As a reader, I had to work too hard, the plot seemed too obvious and the story didn’t flow.
Now, I don’t mind having to work as a reader – my other life is as an historian so reading to piece things together is something I pride myself quite highly on. But there was something else with this book. I was wanting to relax. I had found Let’s Talk About Kevin well written and a ‘good’ read, but this didn’t compare at all. It seemed self-indulgent.
Carrie O’Grady seems to think it’s because the book is too autobiographical – I can’t comment on that but Carrie confirmed my take on the middle chapters, while Michiko Makutani seems to think we’ll think of Irene as a ‘compelling character’, ‘idiosyncratic yet recognisable’ – I’m not sure about that but perhaps it’s because I haven’t finished the book. This note for bookgroups also did nothing to convince me further.
For me, the format didn’t work. Perhaps two separate stories in the same book would have – in the same way Iain Pears structured An Instance of the Fingerpost, or even returning to my teenage years – the later (1980s) Nancy Drew series where you chose how the book progressed, the author providing options at the end of a chapter allowing the reader to create their own story within the story.
Back to birthdays though. Although most are for children, here are a few other books I found for adults:
A book by TSL which deals with birthdays or rather a specific one is Thirty Seven Guns by Tricia Price – Lord Byron fears his 37th birthday.
Oscar Wilde wrote The Birthday of Infanta, a short story.
To find out more about birthdays and how they’re celebrated around the world, there’s Paul Mason’s book: Birthdays (rites of passage)