The basics: "The year is 1865. In Vienna, Dr. Ignasz Semmelweiss has been hounded into an asylum by his medical peers, ridiculed for his claim that doctor's unwashed hands are the root cause of childbed fever. In present-day London, Bridget Hughes juggles her young son, husband, and mother as she plans her home birth. Somewhere in 2153, in a world where humans are birthed and raise in breeding farms, Prisoner 730004 is on trial for concealing a pregnancy." (from the publisher)
My thoughts: Jackie warned me this novel had no plot, but I also knew both she and Andi loved it, so I was intrigued, as my taste tends to be somewhat similar to both of theirs. They are both mothers, so I was curious how I would react as a non-mother. The short of it: I loved it. I find it fascinating Kavenna chose to have two of her four narrators be men. For me, it was the perfect bridge to allow men and non-mothers entrance into a novel about childbirth. I found myself initially enjoying the experience of Brigid in 2009 London the most, but her story carried so much more meaning betwixt the historical and futuristic glimpses into motherhood. The soft tension between Brigid and her husband was poetic:
"Worst of all, Patrick kept praising her; he said he didn't know how she managed it all. He was trying to encourage her, though it made her feel alone, too, that her experience was untranslatable, obscure to him."There were times Kavenna went (intentionally) meta, and I loved it:
"Men are unlikely to read a book about childbirth. It's unfortunate, but there's not much to be done. Women just might, but they'll be put off by your obscure doctor. And the title, too--the title is rather awkward." But he didn't want to change the title. "It sounds like a dreary symbolist novel," said Sally. "And this rambling narrator, who seems mad himself. It's as if you want to talk about everything, in one book. You can't talk about everything in one book. It's boring and it bores the reader."This passage, in reference to the male novelist who has just written a historical novel about Semmelweiss delighted me. Initially, I was surprised by the fourth storyline not mentioned in the summary, but I quickly grew to love this stand-in for the author herself. As I sat in my new reading nook while Mr. Nomadreader sat on the couch playing video games, I compulsively read passages to him I thought he would enjoy. Ironically, I think he would like this book as much if not more than I did because of his love of both science and its history.
The meta continues: "It's a good novel, I'm not saying it isn't a good novel, but it has no market." I admit, a novel about childbirth did not initially grab me, but the idea of a novel about childbirth in 1865, 2009 and 2153 moved this novel near the top of my Orange Prize reading list. It's a brilliant premise, but it's true there's not much plot. I wouldn't recommend it to everyone, but I am recommending it to quite a few friends.
Favorite passage: The appropriately summative: "Pregnancy was an exercise in optimism; having children was an eager assertion of optimism against all the dangers inherent in life, the tragedy that lurked constantly, at the edge of joy."
The verdict: The Birth of Love is a riveting examination of childbirth, mothering and humanity throughout history. It's scope is impressive. It was compulsively readable, fascinating and thought provoking.
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: April 13, 2010
Source: I bought it for my Kindle.
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