We have asked ourselves, what if we hadn’t done something the way we did or what if we had just tried harder… Especially, if we are in a situation that has turned out to be not exactly what we thought it should be.
This is the main question answered in two different ways in the novel “The Post Birthday World” from Lionel Shriver.
The main character is Irina McGovern, who is a children’s book illustrator and lives in London with her long time partner Lawrence. It all starts with a kiss on the birthday of Ramsey, a mutual friend. What if she hadn’t kissed him? Or what if she had kissed him?
When I started reading the novel I didn’t really know about this two different versions of one story triggered by a same event. After the first chapter, there are two chapters two, three and so on. The story evolves differently as if there were parallel worlds. In one of the versions, Irina questions her relationship and takes action to change her life. She makes her own decisions and shows more strength of character. In this same version, Lawrence is weaker and Ramsey is the successful snooker player (a british sport similar to billiard) with money and fame. On the one hand Irina feels comfortable with Lawrence because he offers her moral support, gives her advice on her job and is more like a good old friend to her. On the other, Ramsey attracts her sexually and has a very different personality, but his only interest is snooker. In the second version, Irina is afraid of taking the step that may change her safe life. Although she keeps in touch with Ramsey in a different role as in the first version, she decides to continue with her quiet life. In this turn of the story, Lawrence is the one who surprises her negatively. She cannot believe that he was capable of doing what he did. The relationship to her own family, mother and sister, is also viewed differently in both versions. At the end however, both versions come to a common end.
I have to confess that, although I usually read a little bit about the authors before starting reading a book, in this case I didn’t. I got it electronically and that’s maybe the reason why I didn’t look at the author’s picture or read the small biography in the book cover. Therefore, while reading the first chapters, I was amazed at the insights of a woman’s mind and body that this “Lionel” was describing. I thought to myself, that this “male” author had to have a very good woman counselor 😉 I have to recognize that it was my fault. I corroborated my suspicion and corrected my mistake by reading the biography of Lionel Shriver, who in real life is Mary Ann Shriver! I also remembered that this was the same author of the famous novel “We have to talk about Kevin”, which by the way, I haven’t read. The latter was filmed in 2011 with Tilda Swinton as the mother and Ezra Miller as Kevin.
Going back to the Post Birthday World, I don’t want, of course, to imply that only a woman can really write how a woman feels, or the other way around, that only a man can write what a man really feels or thinks. It is only that in this special case I was a little bit surprised with the intense descriptions.
Returning to the main point in the novel, which is what would have happened, if.
In real life, what would had happened, if I had done something differently? In my case, would I be still living in Munich? Would I have stayed in Brazil? Would I still be married? Would I have a child, my daughter? Questions and more questions on transcendental topics… I imagine that all of us have thought one time or another that way, but as we’re not in a novel, we cannot create a second version of our lives. So let’s continue accepting positively the decisions we’ve made up to now. There is no way of really knowing which is the “perfect” decision, and I think that there are no perfect decisions, or are there? Time will show us the way our decisions turned out, good or bad.
Getting to the end, I‘ll finish here, if not it will be very philosophical… Till next week, that’s my decision!