Although the decision to depict Ramsey and Lawrence as such polar opposites makes for a schematic story line, this flaw is steamrollered by Ms. Shriver’s instinctive knowledge of her heroine’s heart and mind and her ability to limn Irina’s very different relationships with these two men. Relying on the same gift for psychological portraiture that she used in her award-winning 2003 novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Ms. Shriver makes palpable both Irina’s magnetic attraction to Ramsey and the ease and comfort she feels with Lawrence.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times
Lionel Shriver's wonderful new novel, her latest since the prize-winning We Need to Talk About Kevin, creates parallel universes that indulge all our what-if speculations. Spared any fork-in-the-road choices, Irina McGovern, a children's book illustrator, can have her beefcake and eat it too. A professional, independent woman not enamored of feminist bumper stickers, Irina admits, "The only thing I can't live without is a man." In this case, Shriver grants her two.
Mameve Medwed - Washington Post
Shriver is very obviously a perceptive observer and clever chronicler of the human condition, in all its messy, unresolved glory.
Sunday Times (London)
Shriver writes with much intelligence and wryness....The twofold nature of the plot...makes for enlightening reading.
Christian Science Monitor
Extraordinary...Before it was co-opted and trivialized by chick lit, romantic love was a subject that writers from Flaubert to Tolstoy deemed worthy of artistic and moral scrutiny. This is the tradition into which Shriver’s novel fits.
The smallest details of staid coupledom duel it out with a lusty alternate reality that begins when a woman passes up an opportunity to cheat on her longtime boyfriend in Shriver's latest (after the Orange Prize-winning We Need to Talk About Kevin). Irina McGovern, a children's book illustrator in London, lives in comfortable familiarity with husband-in-everything-but-marriage-certificate Lawrence Trainer, and every summer the two have dinner with their friend, the professional snooker player Ramsey Acton, to celebrate Ramsey's birthday. One year, following Ramsey's divorce and while terrorism specialist "think tank wonk" Lawrence is in Sarajevo on business, Irina and Ramsey have dinner, and after cocktails and a spot of hash, Irina is tempted to kiss Ramsey. From this near-smooch, Shriver leads readers on a two-pronged narrative: one consisting of what Irina imagines would have happened if she had given in to temptation, the other showing Irina staying with Lawrence while fantasizing about Ramsey. With Jamesian patience, Shriver explores snooker tournaments and terrorism conferences, passionate lovemaking and passionless sex, and teases out her themes of ambition, self-recrimination and longing. The result is an impressive if exhausting novel.
Irena is saddled with the responsibility of taking out an old friend for his birthday.... To Irena's surprise, she feels an urgent attraction to Ramsey on their evening out and is stuck with the inevitable question: should she or shouldn't she? ... In alternating chapters, she details what happens when Irena takes the erotic plunge with Ramsey and then what happens when she doesn't. The technique works surprisingly well. Sometimes one story is more engaging than the other, but the two versions are seamlessly knit, and in the end both are convincing and beautifully told. Highly recommended. —Barbara Hoffert
A layered and unflinching portrait of infidelity—with a narrative appropriately split in two.... Shriver pulls off a tremendous feat of characterization: Following Irena across 500-plus pages and two timelines offers remarkable insight into her work habits, her thought processes, the way she argues with friends and family, the small incidents of everyday life that make her feel either trapped or free. Better yet, the author is more interested in raising questions about love and fidelity than in pat moralizing. Readers will wonder which choice was best for Irena, but Shriver masterfully confounds any attempt to arrive at a sure answer.
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