Saturday, 9 April 2011

Orange 2011: The birth of love (Joanna Kavenna)

I hadn't read anything about The birth of love before I opened it, merely coming to it because it was on the Orange longlist, although the cover alerted me to the fact that its author, Joanna Kavenna, had won the now sadly obsolete Orange prize for New Writers.

The novel turned out to be four tales, which started off as very distinct and separate stories.
The first, written in letters, told the story of Herr S, a man incarcerated in an asylum in Vienna in the nineteenth century due to his belief that he has discovered why so many women were dying in childbirth, and consequently wracked with images of blood.
In the second, we are in 2009 and we meet Brigid, whose second child is overdue. Her mother is determined that she should be induced, but as she arrives to try to persuade Brigid, her labour pains commence.
Michael, in the third story, is an author, who has just had his book published; he wants to share it with his mother and brother, but is reluctant, and discovers that same day that his mother has been moved into a care home suffering with dementia.
The final strand is set in 2135, and features a woman imprisoned and denied the right to be a mother.

I wasn't sure how Kavenna would manage to bring these together; at first it just felt like I was reading short stories. It was very cleverly achieved, but I don't think it is my favourite novelistic technique as I prefer a story where I can get rather more drawn in - I was curious to see how it worked out but perhaps cared a little less about the characters than if I'd had more time devoted to their stories. It is an interesting approach to the issue of motherhood and birth, and I am now keen to seek out Inglorious with which Kavenna won the Orange new writers prize.

Many thanks to David at Faber for sending me this to read


  1. I wanted to read this after Jackie reviewed it (last year?) as it sounds like something I'll enjoy a bit more than you and quite similar in style to Great House.

  2. Sometimes I have a moment of fantasy and think how wonderful it would be to take modern medical knowledge back in time. But then I would be a witch and the fantasy ends. Intriguing stories, Verity!


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