Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Birth of Love

I finished a book! Haha! I actually finished it last week, but it's taken me until now to decide exactly what to say about it.

I first became interested in reading Joanna Kavenna's novel when I read Jackie's review over at Farm Lane Books. Being a newish mother myself, I can say that I'm newly interested in all things childbirth and motherhood-related. Before Greyson I probably wouldn't have felt compelled to try this book, though having finished it, I think I would've enjoyed it for Kavenna's beautiful writing.

The novel follows three main threads:

Dr Ignaz Semmelweis is a doctor in 1865 Vienna, and he proposes that many women die of childbed fever because doctors don't properly wash their hands between autopsies and births. Simple! However, his peers largely reject his observation and he lands in a mental institution.

Brigid Hayes is a mother in modern-day London juggling the needs of her young son as she approaches her due date. She cycles through feelings of guilt and excitement and stress and exhaustion as she cares for her son and anticipates the new arrival. Reading about Brigid's labor was riveting and exhausting. It was interesting to see those sensations and emotions described on the page.

In the year 2153 Prisoner 730004 is on trial for concealing a pregnancy. There was much more to this thread than I anticipated as several of the prisoners made appearances "interview style" as they were questioned by the authorities of their society for their roles in escaping the city Darwin C and setting up something like a commune where 730004 had her baby.

There's also another thread that I've hardly seen mentioned anywhere. Maybe because it felt unnecessary in relation to the rest of the book. Basically, a novelist named Michael writes the story of Ignaz Semmelweis, gets it published, and deals with his own feelings of hurt and remorse for his ailing mother as he works himself up to go visit her.

So what's so great about The Birth of Love? Quite honestly, there isn't much plot at all. It's small snatches of these folks' lives mingled together by turns. On the other hand, I think that's what makes it interesting. Because it's written in short pieces of each person's experiences, the emotions are heightened. It was downright intense in many a spot. Kavenna's writing is straightforward but her word choice hits just the right note to make some moments heartbreaking. This was one that got me:

She thinks of Calumn, waking in his little bed, wondering where she is. Crying, "Mamamam." She has only spent a few nights apart from him since his birth. Mostly, and in defiance of the opinions of experts, he spends the night in their bed, nestled between her and Patrick. She wonders if he woke in the night, and if he cried for her and found she had gone. Her mother would have been sleeping in the spare room--she imagines Calumn shuffling along the corridor, opening the door of the main bedroom, finding it empty, not knowing where else to look. Bemused and lonely in the corridor, in his little pajamas. She should have told her mother to sleep in the main bedroom instead. She hadn't been thinking, at the time.
Can't you just see him in those little footy pjs? Ugg! Killed me.

At the end of the day, The Birth of Love is a good book because the time periods are varied but cohesive, the experiences seem honest, and the writing is fabulous. There's something for the historical lovers, the sf crowd, and those who just love great fiction. Everything (except that one weird thread I mentioned earlier involving Michael) seemed nicely integrated and nicely planned. All the pieces fit, and letting them unfold was a joyous reading experience.


  1. I love it when there are multiple story lines and yet you still feel a connection running through the book. Sometimes that doesn't work very well. Hadn't heard of this one but sounds quite good.

    And, hurrah for finishing a book :)

  2. I have this one checked out from the library so I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed it!

  3. Not sure this would ever have caught my eye, but you just totally sold me with your review! I can see the possibility of me falling completely in love with this one.

    Hope you had a wonderful, wonderful Christmas!!!

  4. Me too, Iliana. This one just got richer and richer as I read because it became clearer how the lines tied together. Really good stuff.

    Samantha, I hope you like it as much as I did!

    Thanks, Debi! I hope it doesn't disappoint! It was a fabulous Christmas. Thank you, ma'am!

  5. GREAT review Andi - definitely putting it on my tbr list! I love books with multiple stories happening at once so this sounds right up my alley. Thanks also for sharing your Christmas pics! The Rockets look like they are thriving under your (and chuck's ) care!

  6. Jackie's review intrigued me too! I have this one on my never-ending TBR. I'm currently obsessed with tales of marriage, but I'm sure tales of motherhood on close on its heels (not that close!)

  7. I'm so pleased that you loved this one! Ever since I had children I have become interested in reading books about motherhood. This one is especially good for those with new babies, but there is a whole world of wonderful books about raising children that I'm sure you'll find soon!

    I really hope that Kavenna's vision for the future never happens, but otherwise I can't fault the fantastic writing in this book.

  8. Yay for finishing a book! And a book you loved too!

  9. Thanks, Courtney! I think you'll love the book. And yes, the kids seem to be thriving. Growing like weeds means shopping for more clothes and shoes. LOL!

    Carrie, maybe I'll go backwards and work on tales of marriage next. Will be looking over your blog to get some ideas!

    Jackie, you know, I wasn't sure how I'd take to the futuristic portion of the book, but it certainly was one of the most compelling and terrifying portions. I hope we never get there either, but Kavenna did a beautiful job writing it!

    Thank you, Iris!

  10. I'm glad that you were able to finish a book. And this one sounds like it was even a good one. I've been really getting into books with multiple story lines that at first seem disconnected but then in the end you figure out that they were really all connected all along. Thanks for a great review.

  11. This is definitely a book that I'm wanting to read - let me see, where is my new Nook...?


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