The Birth of Love is a book about childbirth and motherhood. Before I go any further I should point out that I am not a mother myself and was uncertain as to whether or not I should read this book. But after seeing some positive reviews by other readers, not all of them mothers, I decided to give it a try.
The novel consists of four separate storylines, one set in the past, two in the present day, and one in the future, covering a wide range of different aspects of pregnancy and childbirth. At first there doesn’t appear to be much of a connection between the four, but eventually the links become clear.
We begin in 19th century Vienna, where Ignaz Semmelweis has been forced into an asylum. He is convinced that, as a doctor, he is responsible for the murder of hundreds of mothers and is tortured by nightmares and visions of blood and death. In 2009, we meet Michael Stone, an author who has written a book about Semmelweis. And also in 2009, Brigid Hayes is pregnant with her second child and planning a home birth. The final thread of the story takes place in the year 2153 and is in the form of an interview with a prisoner known only as Prisoner 730004. A woman has given birth, something which is no longer allowed, and her friends have been arrested and questioned.
This all sounded very interesting, so I’m sorry to have to say that this book wasn’t really a success with me at all! I found it very difficult to connect with any of the characters, though I suspect that if I had given birth myself I would have felt more empathy with Brigid. But I don’t think that was the only problem. I expected to at least be interested in the historical sections but I struggled with those too. I didn’t want to give up on the book though, because I wanted to find out how the four stories were related and how the author would bring them all together at the end.
I did enjoy the futuristic storyline at first, with its vision of a dystopian future where strict birth control regulations have been introduced to deal with overpopulation, where even the use of words like “mother” and “child” have been banned. If that could be considered a believable picture of the world 150 years into the future, then it’s very frightening to think about. After a while, though, I started to get bored with the interview format and repetitive questions and answers, which was disappointing because these parts of the book could potentially have been my favourites.
On a more positive note, I did like Joanna Kavenna’s writing and I was impressed by the way she created a different style and atmosphere for each section of the book, appropriate to the time period in which it was set. I would be happy to try other books by Kavenna, but this one just wasn’t right for me.