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5.0 out of 5 stars
5.0 out of 5 stars
The Birth Machine (Salt Modern Fiction S.)
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on 16 October 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.
This novel should be required reading for medics, politicians, teachers, lawyers and individuals who do not want to be crushed.
In the end the narrator chooses her own way - and by then she has certainly earned it. Ultimately this is a novel celebrating strength of will, freedom and wisdom.
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on 1 April 2012
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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on 28 November 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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