Friday 4 February 2011

The Birth Machine

The Birth Machine by Elizabeth Baines

Came across this one via the blogging circles in which I meander aimlessly when I ought to be writing my novel. I sometimes read the author's blog, and I was fascinated by her tale of how this was published - first in a different version years ago, snapped up by earth-mothers as a plea for natural childbirth which isn't quite what she intended to say with it, and now republished in its original form by Salt, that champion of literary short fiction.

It's beautifully written - the kind of style I've come to expect from Salt (and I've read one of the author's books before). Lyrical and introspective - much of the action takes place within the main character's head: flashback or a new take on old events, from the perspective of a woman in labour?

Zelda is in induced labour, before her due date. They're inducing her as an experiment into inducing for convenience, not because there's anything wrong, although she doesn't know this. She's having lots of drugs pumped into her, and they cause her to return to the past, her childhood, and the murder of a playmate.

I must admit, to me the book read as a plea for natural childbirth, and minimum intervention, even though the author's postscript explains her intended themes. Zelda's experiences are horrible and leave her feeling completely unconnected with her baby - I really felt for her. The book was perhaps slightly dated - it was originally published in 1983. The National Childbirth Trust has come along since then and had an influence - they just don't do things like that anymore. Thank goodness.

I enjoyed the book, its language and imagery, and the delving into Zelda's head and memories, but I couldn't help but think I might have enjoyed the 1983 version more -where you start with Zelda rather than starting with the professor and his theories on induction. You never really see the professor after that first chapter, so I found the beginning of the book a little disjointed.

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