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The Birth Machine (Salt Modern Fiction S.) [Paperback]

Elizabeth Baines
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

25 Nov 2010 Salt Modern Fiction S.
Tucked up on the ward and secure in the latest technology, Zelda is about to give birth to her baby. But things don’t go to plan, and as her labour progresses and the drugs take over, Zelda enters a surreal world. Here, past and present become confused and blend with fairytale and myth. Old secrets surface and finally give birth to disturbing revelations in the present.

Originally published in the eighties, The Birth Machine was seized on by readers as giving voice to a female experience absent from fiction until then and quickly became a classic text. Out of print for some years, The Birth Machine is now reissued in a revised version. It is still relevant today to modern Obstetrics and Medicine, however it is more than that: it is also a gripping story of buried secrets and a long-ago murder, and of present-day betrayals. Above all, it is a powerful novel about the ways we can wield control through logic and language, and about the battle over who owns the right to knowledge and to tell the stories of who we are. The book was dramatised for Radio 4 and starred Barbara Marten as Zelda.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Salt Publishing (25 Nov 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1907773029
  • ISBN-13: 978-1907773020
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,320,946 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Elizabeth Baines was born in South Wales. Her grandmother claimed to be descended from the family of the eighteenth-century Welsh plasterer-bard Will Hopkin, and undeterred by the fact that there was no proof of this, Elizabeth decided at an early age to be a writer in his footsteps. Her acclaimed novels and short stories expose the power we hold over each other, the secrets we keep from each other, and the ways in which even our fantasies can alter our lives and those of others for ever. Her collection of stories Balancing on the Edge of the World (Salt Publishing, 2007), has received widespread enthusiasm and spent several days in the Amazon UK Bestseller short stories list. Her most recent book, the novel Too Many Magpies (Salt, 2009), has been similarly praised. Salt have also reissued her first novel, the acclaimed The Birth Machine.

'One of those books I had to force myself to put down just so the experience of reading it wouldn't end.' - Tania Hershman, on the story collection Balancing on the Edge of the World

'I read most of this book in one sitting as I could not drag myself away from its eerie storytelling... An accomplished, thoughtful novel that offers us a strange new lens with which to view the world' - Lisa Glass, on Too Many Magpies

Elizabeth writes the well-regarded Fictionbitch blog ( and her own author blog ( Her website is at

Product Description


The first well-crafted and surreal novel from a talented new writer. (Literary Review)

An odd novel, and very compelling. (Head and Hands)


A gripping story, a pithy book. (Katy Campbell City Limits)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unputdownable 16 Oct 2010
The Birth Machine is an absorbing novel. I found it very hard to put down and read it in only three sittings, but I am sure I will return to it time and time again. There are three time strands. The main one is a woman in hospital having an induced birth. During the waiting period, when she is on drugs to start her labour, she remembers back to incidents during her marriage, and further back to her childhood, in which there was a child, who was one of her playmates, murdered while she is absorbed with her best friend exploring sex. The three strands mesh together brilliantly in this carefully plotted novel. They are signalled so well that there are no confusions for the reader, even when the childhood friend appears in the theatre where the cesarian section is being carried out, as we are aware that the narrator is on powerful sedating drugs.
A main theme in the novel is the hubris of the medical profession who seem to think that technology is superior to nature (remind anyone of The Titanic?). The perfectly healthy woman is forced to have an induced birth for convenience, not hers but that of the medical profession. Their logic is hopelessly flawed to the point of ridicule -and this book certainly is a satire, yet at the same time we DO care about the characters - well our narrator at least - the others are unsympathetic. There is a certain sisterhood with The Handmaid's Tale but without the dystopian context. No, this book is more horrifying in that it is the real world and these things happen in it. In real life.
This is NOT just a book for women though. The obstetric profession is just the example Baines happens to have chosen. It is about the inability of an individual to stand up to an organisation which does not value the individual, and will not listen.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An intelligent and challenging read. 1 April 2012
By C. King
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It's hard to believe that this novel was written 30 years ago; it feels so contemporary. Possibly because the issues raised in the context of the story are still just as relevant today. But also because the underlying themes are timeless and possibly even more relevant the deeper we become entrenched in systems and received logic.

This is not an easy book to read, because the topics it covers, and the satirical approach demand plenty of engagement and thought from the reader. But it's a pleasure to tackle.

I first bought this novel for my mother, who suffered much more of the treatment seen in the story than I did, and also because it was possibly a pivotal moment for her in a shift from passivity at the hands of so called experts and their logical systems to asserting her rights and views as a woman and mother. A generation apart we both loved the novel.

The Birth Machine is an intelligent and challenging read, highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping existential mystery 28 Nov 2010
I found this book completely absorbing and read it far too late into the night.

I don't see it as a polemic about hi-tech childbirth, but rather a nightmarish parable about power and secrets. Zelda can make no sense of her surroundings, and is deprived and imprisoned, because of a Kafka-style conspiracy between a sinister authority and her loved ones. Baines makes subtle points about intimacy and betrayal. I loved the way Zelda is shown first from afar, and then closer and closer until we are inside her head. An intriguing back mystery kept me guessing and unsettled to the end.

An excellent and unusual story. Highly recommended
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