The Birth of Love by Joanna Kavenna (Faber and Faber, £12.99)
Once upon a time, love in novels tended decorously to resolve into marriage. We’ve long since become used to its gleeful anatomising as sex and lust; but Joanna Kavenna’s new novel takes readers into terrain that is still relatively virgin—the visceral, slippery business of birth, and its human intimacies. Kavenna won the Orange new writers award in 2008 for her debut novel, Inglorious, which traced the existential unravelling of a journalist’s life. This, her second novel, is altogether more untramelled, moving between the stories of a physician confined to a lunatic asylum in 1865 Vienna, a debut novelist writing in 2009 London, a mother approaching and experiencing the difficult birth of her second child (also in 2009), and the inquisition of a group of rebels in the dystopian world of 2153, where motherhood and family have been replaced by breeding centres. The result—despite the slightly laboured science fiction conceit—is a heady and ultimately moving annexation of fertile terrain for fiction.
This article originally appeared in the May 2010 edition of Prospect.