cover image The Birthday Party

The Birthday Party

Laurent Mauvignier, trans. from the French by Daniel Levin Becker. Transit, $18.95 trade paper (454p) ISBN 978-1-945492-65-5

Mauvignier (The Wound) spins a mesmerizing psychological horror set in the seemingly humdrum French hamlet of Three Lone Girls. Farmer Patrice Bergogne readies festivities for his wife, Marion’s 40th birthday party while seeing to their young daughter, Ida. Nearby, their neighbor Christine, a solitary painter and practically a member of the family, labors on a canvas depicting a nude woman. Then a series of frightening episodes intrude on the bucolic scenes. First, threatening letters arrive on their doorstep, unsigned and prompting enough alarm for the couple to show them to the police. Then three brothers show up and hold everybody captive. Both Patrice and Marion harbor secrets that come to the forefront during the crisis, and, by the end, everyone is transformed by the mayhem, including Ida, who initially appears as innocence incarnate. The omniscient narration moves elegantly from exterior descriptions to the recesses of the characters’ thoughts, and Becker’s translation lends menace and grace. Recalling art-shock movies like Funny Games, this is pleasurably cinematic even as it penetrates deep psychological mysteries. Readers will be riveted. (Jan.)