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Lionel Shriver’s Hard Choices

Sarah Lyall at the New York Times sits down with Lionel Shriver in her South London home as reviews pour in for the Orange Prize winner’s latest novel, THE POST-BIRTHDAY WORLD. And even if the literary world doesn’t quite know what to make of Shriver – who grabbed headlines with her declaration that she did want to win the prize – Shriver makes no excuses or apologies. “I’m as capable as anyone of manipulative self-deprecation,” she said. “It’s obviously a ploy, but I don’t think it’s an obligation. I do think I have the reputation increasingly as someone who is insufferably arrogant. I don’t want to be.”

Nor did she want to remain obscure, as her first six novels were published but didn’t sell well (things might be a different story as Serpent’s Tail, her UK publisher, prepares to republish some of her backlist titles.) The new book – which is, to my mind, brilliant – explores the parallel tracks of a woman choosing between two different men, a scenario Shriver drew from her own life. “There was more than one moment that I could have gone either way,” she said about leaving a longtime partner to marry jazz drummer Jeff Williams. “I know what it’s like to be on the knife edge and to have this inkling that whichever way you go it’s going to have huge implications.”

The same goes for her writing career, no matter how hard it got. “I find it more narratively appealing than instant success. I paid my dues. I did not write a novel at 21 and it sells a million copies and everybody thinks I’m brilliant and I’m on TV. That did not happen to me. I’m glad. Looking back I didn’t feel glad all those years. But if I was going to pick my own story, I might have picked this one.”

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