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The Birth of Love [Paperback]

Joanna Kavenna
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
RRP: 7.99
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Book Description

5 May 2011

Vienna1865: Dr Ignaz Semmelweis has been hounded into a lunatic asylum, ridiculed for his claim that doctors' unwashed hands are the root cause of childbed fever. The deaths of thousands of mothers are on his conscience and his dreams are filled with blood.

2153: humans are birthed and raised in breeding centres, nurtured by strangers and deprived of familial love. Miraculously, a woman conceives, and Prisoner 730004 stands trial for concealing it.

London in 2009: Michael Stone's novel about Semmelweis has been published, after years of rejection. But while Michael absorbs his disconcerting success, his estranged mother is dying and asks to see him again. As Michael vacillates, Brigid Hayes, exhausted and uncertain whether she can endure the trials ahead, begins the labour of her second child.

A beautifully constructed and immensely powerful work about motherhood that is also a story of rebellion, isolation and the damage done by rigid ideologies.

Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (5 May 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571245188
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571245185
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 501,326 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Literature is full of death and sex, but the third part of the elemental trilogy that defines our lives birth is relatively absent. Joanna Kavenna s novel changes all that. --Jonathan Gibb, Financial Times

Past, present and future are cleverly woven into a meditation about the shattering experience of birth. --The Times

Driven, risked and achieved, The Birth of Love is shaped with rare accomplishment and integrity --Iain Sinclair

'Deal[s] sensitively with the fear and elation that surround the process of creation ... perhaps because readers are less squeamish and writers have childcare, a literature of parenthood is being born and Kavenna's off-spring is a fine addition to the nursery.' --Guardian

Driven, risked and achieved, The Birth of Love is shaped with rare accomplishment and integrity --Iain Sinclair

Book Description

Through the interwoven stories of four very different characters, The Birth of Love explores the intense, conflicting emotions of motherhood as few contemporary novels have dared to do.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tales of Birth & Motherhood 29 Mar 2011
By Simon Savidge Reads TOP 1000 REVIEWER
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.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Laborious Rubbish 10 Mar 2012
BIRTH OF LOVE is the story of the extended labour of Brigit aged 42, giving birth to her second child, interwoven with exerts from "The Moon", a historical novel by Michael Stone; the activities of Stone in the days surrounding the launch of the novel; notes of the interrogations of fugitives from justice, set in 2153; and perhaps some episodes in the `real life' of the narrator of "The Moon".

There is almost no plot. This ambitious work consists almost entirely of style, theme and form. The shifts between `real life' and fiction, imagined historical figures portrayed as real, and excerpts from non-existent works of literature, echo A.S.Byatt, but completely fail to satisfy. One is left wondering how and why a writer with so much skill as Kavenna could have produced such a dreadful book.

"The Empress" is a wonderful well-written description of the painful birthing processes of an intelligent and insightful woman, late in life. But it is exactly that: a description. It gives the impression of being an impressive, extended piece of flash fiction, pointless and unpublishable in itself, around which Kavenna has attempted to accumulate meaning, by stapling a number of greatly inferior fragments onto it.

In `The Hermit", Stone is a recluse who has written a number of novels, none of which have met with any success whatsoever. More by that accident than by artifice, he has finally managed to produce a novel, "The Moon", that may have some merit and it is published to very little acclaim. As a recluse, Stone finds the launch party and associated PR work debilitating. Meanwhile, his estranged mother is dying. Stone is an wholly unengaging character.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark, riveting, thought provoking 22 Oct 2011
By Mrs. Fiona Wilton VINE VOICE
I read this easily in a weekend as I was absolutely riveted. The plot follows four main characters; Brigid in labour in 2009, Micheal about to publish a book (2009), prisoners of the state in 2153 and Dr Semmelweis, an obstetrician in a lunatic asylum in 1865. Their stories revolve around the theme of motherhood, the notion of love as a vital force in our lives and our responsibility to ourselves and others to embrace love and communicate with each other.
Despite the uplifting message it's a very dark novel. The blurb on the inside of the jacket states "'s also a story of rebellion, isolation and the damage done by rigid idealogies" and in this way is hugely thought provoking and effective. I would advise soon-to-be parents to store it for a while before reading as the subject matter could be disconcerting.
The writing is intense but not overdone and I was impressed with the ability of the author to weave the different stories together in a way which isn't twee or forced. The social commentary is insightful and the plot demonstrates how rigid and blind we can be in rejecting alternative perspectives if they don't fit in with current/popular thinking.
If you liked Blind Faith or Cloud Atlas I think you'll like this. Hugely impressive.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Birth of Love 10 Jun 2011
By jane
This is the most beautifully observed writing I have ever read, describing the tenderness between mother and child...the way Callumn pats Brigid's thigh whilst she recovers from a contraction in the garden. She describes family tensions, depicting each character wonderfully. Her imaginings of how Callumn's coping without her whilst she's in hospital and the overwhelming terror, that you could never love a second child like the addressed perfectly by Kavenna. I had to hold my breath in parts because her words spoke so closely of my experience. As a midwife I was interested how she described the historic consequences of paternalistic childbirth alongside it's present day advances that saves lives. Within the book there is a spiritual existential viewpoint of birth being more than bringing forth new life...that the love it brings is both sacred and unconditional.
Although I believe Michael's complicated and rather melancholic character, showed self sacrifice and perseverance,as the other sections did, his motivation was less clear; perhaps an escape from his own mother. Yet his story created tension at the conclusion of the book. I also loved the differing styles of prose in each of the eras, the interleaving of which, was beautifully crafted.
I am now a confirmed Joanna Kavenna fan. Thank you for such a great read.
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