Lionel Shriver's The Post Birthday World (Harper Collins) is a book that answers the eternal "what if" romantic question about choosing one partner over another. When Irina, an expat living in London, hangs inches from Ramsey Acton over his snooker table on his birthday, her fate hangs on a kiss. Whether she gives in to her desire or "goes to the loo" means a world of difference. Two parallel lives, her alternate futures, proceed from that fateful moment. In one she continues her comfortable life with her longtime mate, Lawrence, a wonk at a prestigious think tank. In the other, she's passionately involved with Ramsey, a rich and famous snooker player. Both men are honorable, yet radically different. Lawrence is an intellectual, who avoids the emotional side of life, while Ramsey runs on instinct and inspiration. Where Lawrence is thrifty and careful, Ramsey is impulsive and extravagant. She loves Lawrence for his predictability and nurturing of her own talent and career but she's besotted by Ramsey's understanding of her as a creature. His sensuality and perception ignite Irina's emotions. His touch is electric and she can no longer bear the tried and true... or does she resist that attraction and go on?
As the years progress, both courses downsides. Lawence's predictability and loyalty change, as do Ramsey's fortunes. Irina's career takes off but in one life she wins a prestigious award, in the other has a bestseller. As time affects both fates, the better choice is never clear. Shriver has wisdom in her method. The idiocy of romantic illusions is knowingly farcical yet poignantly moving. This is a book that goes for emotional honesty and yet has a laugh. I recommend it for any romantics, lost and found.