I have not been challenged by a book like Lionel Shriver’s The Post-Birthday World since the last book of hers I read, We Need To Talk About Kevin. Not challenged in terms of the difficulty in reading and finishing the book, but really challenged by the themes it presents. They are not difficult or, despite Shriver being labeled a “feminist” writer (which really downgrades the material she produces) gender specific. The ideas she presents are just very harsh. They bring into account the difficulty in connecting with other people, having what you want and not getting it, and that, sometimes, we are alone in our struggles to better ourselves. It just so happens that most of the protagonists in her novels happen to be women. But if you want to speak in those terms, I feel her take on modern feminism to quite the breath of fresh air, especially after the year I have had. She finds flaws in an ideology that is glamorized too often, and shines a light on the idea of how many innocent people you may hurt on the path to gaining social independence, as a man or woman. But I don’t want to ignore Shriver’s keen sense of style, which is one full display here, with her turning a genre on its head the same way she did with We Need To Talk About Kevin, that has a uniqueness that is only overshadowed by the ways in which it uses that uniqueness to keep the readers guessing. The first chapter of this novel introduces us to Irina, an aging children’s book illustrator who is in a relationship with Lawrence, a political pundit working at a think-tank in London. They have a mutual friend in Ramsey Acton, a famous snooker player whose ex-wife, Jude, wrote some of the books that Irina illustrated. The couple makes a habit out of having dinner with the lonely Ramsey on his birthday, until one year, while Lawrence out of the country; it is just Irina and Ramsey alone together. She is drawn to Ramsey and the pivotal moment that takes place when he is teaching her snooker moves, when she will kiss him or not, creates two different timelines of events. In the one where she does kiss him, she leaves Lawrence for Ramsey, in the one where she doesn’t, she stays with Lawrence and is left wondering what might have been. What makes this book so interesting is how it inverts the story, showing how different things happened because of a small event, and therefore showing two different aspects of Irina’s psyche. Each man has his good and bad qualities; Lawrence is loyal and deeply loves her, yet he is distant at times and is a bit of an intellectual bully. Ramsey is quite charming and handsome, but is childish, unintelligent, and a bit of loser when it comes to anything not involving snooker. Everything is affected by Irina’s choice in the split narratives, from her relationship with her estranged mother; her writing career and Ramsey’s snooker success. The characters also change not just on the pager, but also in the reader’s mind. In one narrative, a character can come off as a very sympathetic victim, but in a few pages, they can come off as a blowhard. It is a cool exercise that is demanding of the reader, but in the best possible way. The ending is a bit confusing, but everything leading up to it is a delight. This is a cool novel that is fun and engaging, but has a deep, emotional message about defining yourself on your own terms.