Isn’t it funny how the title of a book can put your off it a little? I have to admit that when I saw that Joanna Kavenna, an author I had prior heard very little about, was on the Orange long list with her second novel ‘The Birth of Love’ its very title made me think ‘hmmm, maybe that one will be tricky’. Its not that I am squeamish about birth, in fact I have been a complete addict of ‘One Born Every Minute’, and find pregnancy rather fascinating. In fact whenever relatives (have I said I am soon to be an uncle of sorts?) and friends get pregnant I have endless questions and want to know all the ins and outs of it all. The title just sounded a little saccharine and so it was therefore one of the first books that I thought I should tackle as it would be a bit of a difficult read for me, oh how wrong I turned out to be.
It is four initially disparate stories which make up ‘The Birth of Love’. We first have the story, in forms of letters to a Dr Wilson, of the incarceration of Herr S in a Viennese asylum in the 1800’s. This is a man wracked with guilt over the amount of women he believes he has murdered and the never ending dreams and visions of blood that he is the subject to. Secondly is the tale of Brigid whose second child, she is what is now deemed as a mature mother, is overdue and we join her as her mother arrives and so it seems do her contractions. Thirdly is the narrative of Michael, and author whose works on a doctor from the 1800’s has just been published and on the day of release learns his mother is ill with dementia. Fourthly, and finally, we have the unnamed Prisoner 730004 in the year 2153 who has been captured after leaving the ‘safety’ (which we soon learn are confines) of Darwin C and has escaped to an island where the ‘Magna Mater’ Birgitta is rumoured to have given birth, a quite impossible act in the times of egg and sperm harvesting and offspring farming.
You might think that merely from its title this is a book solely about birth; in fact it’s also about the bonds of motherhood. Michael has a very distant and angry relationship with his mother and the news of her illness seems to completely pass him by, Brigid’s relationship with her overbearing mother leaves her to think about her future mothering of her own children, Prisoner 730004 feels she has lost something by being denied the right to be a mother and Herr S feels he has stolen mothers from there children.
It is a real cacophony of tales and one which could have seemed too far fetched and with too much scope yet Kavenna pulls these four strands together and creates four worlds which are all very real and tangible despite their vast differences. Whilst reading this, and I don’t think its because one of the strands is rather like ‘The Handmaids Tale’, I often found myself thinking of Margaret Atwood’s writing. You constantly feel that Kavenna has you following the exact path she wants you to, observing things and similarities as you go along, almost as if she is connecting with her reader as she writes. This is a quality you don’t find often in books and certainly not ones with so much scope which ask the reader to ‘hold on, it will all come together’ yet you never question that they won’t.
My only small issue with the book was that whilst I liked the way it’s written, and Kavenna’s style of phrase and prose in short bursts with breaks between paragraphs, in the case of Michael’s narrative it seemed to distant me from him some what and on occasion his being an author almost preached as to how clever authors are. I am sure that wasn’t the intention, but something in his sections lost the flow of the novel as a whole for me a little now and again. This however is a small blip in a novel that I found rather exciting to read.
If you haven’t read ‘The Birth of Love’ yet or have been debating reading it then I would say delve in. It’s a fascinating book about child birth, motherhood and has a great humour just as it has a great darkness. It’s interesting that it’s a book that reflects the past, the now and the future as I think in time this could become a modern classic from an author that is certainly one to watch. 8/10
This book was kindly sent by the publishers.
So I am now a quarter of the way through The Orange Longlist 2011 (though of course these posts being scheduled I am possibly much further on that that now – I hope so) and they are all proving to be incredibly varied reads. It is making me think just how many books I miss out on each year, which then makes my head hurt, and shows just why prizes should be followed, we may not agree with the winner or the shortlists but how great is it that such an array of writing can be highlighted to us? Has anyone else read ‘The Birth of Love’? What about Kavenna’s debut novel ‘Inglorious’, which also won ‘The Orange Award for New Writers’? Have any of you read the any of the other Orange long listed books? Is anyone oranged out yet? Sorry if you are… just another 15 to go but fear not there are some non Orange book thoughts coming after tomorrow!