cover image The Birth of Love

The Birth of Love

Joanna Kavenna, . . Metropolitan, $14 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-9154-0

Orange Award–winning (for Inglorious ) Kavenna's latest is a complex and expansive narrative about childbirth, encompassing that singular event's mysteries, dramas, attendant sciences, and politics, over a span of more than three centuries. Vienna, 1865: Professor Ignaz Semmelweis is committed to an asylum, disturbed by visions of the women who died of childbed fever while he was an obstetrician and his failed crusade to root out the illness' cause. London, 2009: Brigid Hayes, a devoted wife and mother, awaits the imminent birth of her second child, while across town Michael Stone, after innumerable attempts, finally gets a novel published and struggles to handle the sudden public exposure. Unknown location, 2153: prisoner 730004 stands trial for conspiring against the Protectors, leaders of a dystopian society in which all human activity, including procreation, is regulated for the preservation of the species. Kavenna's ambitious narrative architecture doesn't quite cohere, and some of her rhetorical devices are, well, labored. But on the whole her writing is sharp, her four narrative voices are nuanced and distinctive, and her emotional, intellectual and stylistic ranges are impressive. (Apr.)