Lionel Shriver is probably my favorite contemporary writer. Her last novel, the Orange-Prize-winning We Need to Talk About Kevin, was a wringing and thought provoking look at maternal ambivalence and the potential innateness of evil.
The Post-Birthday World is a very different kind of work, but it is similar in that it reflects back on a woman's life and choices, and asks us what might have been. Where Eva, the narrator of Kevin, could only speculate on what her life would have been like without her unwanted child, in World we follow Irina McGovern on two dual paths and see where each would have led. Did you see Sliding Doors? It's like that, but good. The book alternates timelines by chapter, following Irina as she muddles along in a relationship with a think tank intellectual who is secretly cheating on her, and another course in which she leaves her partner for the snooker playing ex-husband of a former colleague, who gives her a more tumultuous kind of love but can never really connect with her.
Shriver has a quiet, cutting sort of insight into human psychology and relationships, and she doesn't hold back from showing us the very real benefits of each track for Irina, as well as how Irina's behavior patterns and limitations channel her toward similar outcomes no matter what her macro-level choices. We may sometimes ask how our lives would be different if we had made a certain choice, but in many respects the course is set by what is in us, not what we do. Very highly recommended.
(Flashback post: I read this book a couple of months ago.)