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Monday, 17 January 2011
The Birth Machine
By Elizabeth Baines
This novel immediately takes the reader into a world of vivid detail and thought-provoking imagery. The writing is full of well-observed, deliciously minute detail. In the opening chapters I particularly like the description of the Professor, ‘The candyfloss tuft on his head, his gob-stopper eyeballs, lips like a twist of half-blown bubble gum’. And, in a beautifully evocative phrase, ‘The fat around the meat became pocked with rows of deep holes, each hole somehow shocking and filled with pink light’.
The novel traces the story of Zelda, about to give birth in an environment which is trying to restrict and regiment her. Elizabeth Baines uses a very clever juxtaposition of ideas to illustrate and enrich the story; life and death, fecundity and sterility, natural and synthetic. The themes of fascination with birds, the natural world and food also run through the story.
She plays with time and the succession of events, and uses this to maximise the impact of the contrasting ideas. At one point, where present story and back story meet, she contrasts the concepts of increasing the dosage of drugs in childbirth with strengthening the spell with magic and herbs in a childhood memory to great effect.
The story of Zelda’s experience of giving birth has fragments of a half-forgotten fairy tale woven in and a mystery lost in the past runs through it increasing the tension of the narrative.
There’s plenty here to keep you reading - suspense, mystery and the sheer beauty and skill of the writing.
There’s also a very interesting author’s note at the end which explains about the publication history of the book. I’m not going to say too much about that though because I think anyone reading this novel should just come to it as it is and then read the author’s note and reflect on its implications afterwards.
I highly recommend this novel both for the intelligent handling of the themes and the pleasure of the reading experience.
Reviewed by Helen M Hunt
This book was kindly provided to Bookersatz for review by the author. Book published by Salt and available here.