Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Birth of Love” as Want to Read:
The Birth of Love
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Birth of Love

3.13  ·  Rating Details ·  225 Ratings  ·  48 Reviews
From the winner of the Orange Award for New Writers, an epic novel of childbirth—past, present, and future

The year is 1865. In Vienna, Dr. Ignasz Semmelweiss has been hounded into an asylum by his medical peers, ridiculed for his claim that doctors' unwashed hands are the root cause of childbed fever. In present-day London, Bridget Hughes juggles her young son, husband, a
Paperback, 320 pages
Published April 13th 2010 by Metropolitan Books (first published 2010)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Birth of Love, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Birth of Love

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Arielle Walker
I really was not a fan of this. Though I thought the physical writing was not bad, the actual stories completely failed to grasp me, aside from the futuristic one which was not developed nearly enough. If the entire book had been about the prisoners, with only a few mentions of how the other stories may have related, then I may actually have enjoyed reading The Birth of Love.

It really didn't help that the meticulously described account of an incredibly painful and distressing labour not only to
An intriguing and original novel of ideas, with childbirth at its centre. There are four strands to this story, and the first two thirds of the book tells them in alternate long chapters.

The first is based on the true story of Ignaz Semmelweis, a nineteenth century Hungarian doctor who discovered that the deadly epidemics of puerperal sepsis ("childbed fever") in the maternity wards of the day were transmitted by doctors' hands, and could be prevented by handwashing. His ideas were rejected by
Celeste Noelani McLean
I'm giving this book a generous rating of two stars as an average. Broken into two pairs of loosely related stories, the book in its entirety deals with the processes of birth. Three of the stories deal specifically with childbirth and one of them with the birthing process of artistic creation, as an author struggles with the aftermath of having published one of the other stories in the book. Incidentally, the "book" that the fictional writer had just published was my favorite of the four storie ...more
Firstly, a huge congrats to the author, Joanna Kavenna. The Birth of Love is on the 2011 Orange Prize Longlist. You can view the entire list HERE

The Birth of Love involves four stories entwined into one stunner of a novel. One of the most original novels I have read recently, it's scary, thought-provoking and powerful. Part dystopia, part historical fiction and overall, a celebration of motherhood through the centuries. Despite some flaws, it's a very memorable book.

In 1865 Vienna, Professor Se
Sep 06, 2010 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: moms who have been there and done that
Shelves: 2010
I can't recall how I came across this book but I'm glad I did. 4 stories all involving childbirth and/or love loss. The story of a Dr. in 19th century Vienna that goes insane while trying to convince doctors to wash their hands before examining women during child birth; the modern day reclusive author who is writing the story of this Viennese doctor; the modern day woman in London giving birth at home and finally the future story, where there are only egg and sperm donors. the stories only inter ...more
May 22, 2011 Elaine rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2011
While each of the voices and narratives was interesting at the beginning, nothing actually happened in any of them, and the predominant note of each one was repetition and mood more than narrative. The book's ideas were more schematic than woven into the plot. In particular, the sci fi plot seemed totally half-hearted as narrative yet polemical and also annoyingly written (we get the point -- family is a bad word in 2153!!). Disappointing.
May 03, 2013 Gwynne rated it really liked it
One of my new favorite writers! However, her description of giving birth did not endear me to the process of expelling a baby from my nether regions. Great writing, though, and inventive cross-cutting between stories.
The Birth of Love is not one story, but a series of interwoven stories - one more than the synopsis would seem to suggest. They are interwoven in such a way as to make it hard to discern which is intended to be truly happening and which to be fabrication.

A novelist, estranged from his family, produces a -fictional?- book on Ignaz Semmelweis. The release of this book is intertwined with his strained relationship with his ageing mother.

An amateur psychologist(?) visits Semmelweis - the "savior of
Jul 01, 2010 Allyson rated it it was ok
I loved her first book- The Ice Museum and while not having read Inglorious, saw this @ the library, so brought it home.
I liked her writing style, and the ideas of portraying the changes in thought surrounding childbirth were interestingly depicted, yet it did not grip me. It felt too disengaged or flat, not warmly inviting which sounds weird but I would not necessarily recommend it to my friends. Also the birthing process was vividly but distressingly presented.
On the whole, disappointing desp
Apr 18, 2011 Stephanie rated it it was ok
I picked this up off the "Hot New Titles" shelf at the library. This is a book I definitely judged by the cover. A silhouette of a pregnant woman and the word "birth" in the title? Totally up my alley, right? Wrong. This was a strange story with four different plots weakly woven together by poorly developed characters. The only reason I gave it two stars instead of one is that I actually did make it through the entire thing, which is worth a star all its own.
Nov 15, 2013 Penny rated it really liked it
This is really, really good. It reminded me a bit of 'Cloud Atlas' (in that is interweaves several stories), but I think this is better. I found the 'link' between the stories in Cloud Atlas a bit forced.
Mar 28, 2014 Patrick rated it liked it
Despite the fact that it is surely one of the most important events in a person’s life, as far as I know there aren’t very many novels written about the actual experience of giving birth. Often it’s a thing that happens in a book for plot reasons, or it is portrayed as a momentous occasion that’s soon over and rarely dwelled upon in detail. This book is quite different to all that, and for that reason alone I think it’s worth reading. It’s ambitious, unusual, sad, affecting, occasionally quite f ...more
Jul 31, 2013 Ryandake rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2013-challenge
urk. what a missed opportunity.

this book is all about birth past, present, and future. it's a vastly underexplored part of the human experience in literature--in most books babies appear off-stage, as it were. there's some literature about the aftermath--new mom & baby experiences--but these tend either toward the overly-sunny (isn't baby great!) to the grisly (baby is a horror of time-suck). still, not much out there about birth itself.

the first of three parts of this book examines the madn
Aug 02, 2013 Anna rated it liked it
Considering the fact that birth is kind of significant to this little thing we call human existence, there is a surprisingly small number of novels on the subject. When birth has been included as a major plot point in fiction, it usually means one of two things: the woman in question either got knocked up by someone unfortunate or she is about to die. And sometimes it's a combination of the two. This dearth of literature about maternity is probably related to the fact that most novels published ...more
Ally Atherton
Jul 03, 2011 Ally Atherton rated it it was amazing
This book takes the reader into the lives of four main characters in different places and at different times. In Vienna in 1865 a doctor is locked up in a mental asylum after discovering that women are dying in childbirth due to inadequate handwashing techniques. In the present day Michael has written the story of this same Doctor, Ignaz Semmelweis, and it has become his first published book. But he is struggling to come to terms with how this has affected his life and he is forced to re-examine ...more
Nov 23, 2010 Isabel rated it liked it
Woah. This is a weird one. It is well written and the urgency of tone forced me to power through, even though the characters weren't that gripping. I'm not sure what to make of the fact that the jacket write-up talks about 3 perspectives, when there are actually 4. There are lots of complicated details I'd have to reread the book in order to work out. Several mother characters; authority issues; alienation; lack of mental control due to drugs, drink or exhaustion... Each of the characters seemed ...more
First Line: "The year is 1865 and Ignaz Semmelweis is dragged along the corridor though he struggles violently, kicks and shouts."

I read this in conjunction with a biography of Semmelweis, the man who first discovered that the disease called Childbed Fever was contagious and that epidemics of the diease in hospitals were caused by doctors dissecting corpses and then examining women in labor and that it could be stopped by washing hands, although his discovery was completely disregarded for sever
Oct 30, 2011 Jason rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, novel
One of the characters in The Birth of Love says, "'Men are unlikely to read a book about childbirth. It's unfortunate, but there's not much to be done.'" And by the time I had finished the book I wondered if that sentence shouldn't also apply to women.

This novel contains four interrelated and alternating stories: one set in Vienna in 1865, two set in the present (one about a pregnant woman giving birth and one about the writer of the first story), and finally a story set in 2153, which we learn
Oct 29, 2016 Rachel rated it it was ok
Shelves: sci-fi, history, novel, 2016
Highly conceptual, but lacking in follow through, The Birth of Love takes you through stories of childbirth in the past, present, and future.

First thoughts: I love the parallel narratives across different times - it keeps me from getting bored with one story line.

Recommended for: I think this book ended up being "Not For Me," which isn't to say it's not for anyone else - maybe mothers (or parents) who have actually gone through childbirth? Those interested in the social and historical implicatio
Shahad Abdullah
Nov 28, 2012 Shahad Abdullah rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
I really loved this book although it was not what I expected it to be at all. The vivid emotions described in it really moved me, especially since I have never read anything that portrayed maternity, and this was a whole novel that is dedicated for that sole purpose.

It is set on 3 time periods, the past, the present and the future. It had some real facts when the narrative was in the past, which is something I quite enjoyed, but I disliked the present; the plot was a bit weak since it was only a
gwen g
Nov 19, 2010 gwen g rated it liked it
Really cool concept, with three separate strands of stories -- one over 100 years ago, about a doctor in a lunatic asylum; one in present day, about a mother giving birth to her second child; one far in the future, about escapees from a society that controls childbirth. I loved the way the stories connected, but they all felt a little flat and disengaged. The concept was better than the writing. Still, a quick read, good for a long airplane ride.
Jade Lopert
Aug 20, 2015 Jade Lopert rated it it was ok
Shelves: chick-lit
So, I really wanted to like this. The concept of the three faces of Brigid as the basis for past, present and future is fantastic. The tie in between the four stories is interesting.
At the end of the day though, I just couldn't get into it. Just not my cup of tea on the writing style. I couldn't get into the flow of the story for some reason. I very much think this could be an amazing read for someone else though.
Christine Morton
Aug 15, 2010 Christine Morton rated it really liked it
Shelves: novel-birth
four stories in one, but the best is the account of Ignaz Semmelweis after he is institutionalized for daring to promote his views that fellow physicians were the cause of childbed fever by not washing their hands between cadaver and laboring women checks. the chapter on the modern London woman anticipating labor is also very good. the book's other two stories are less compelling and weakly connected to the core.
Buried In Print
This review was deleted following Amazon's purchase of GoodReads.

The review can still be viewed via LibraryThing, where my profile can be found here.

I'm also in the process of building a database at Booklikes, where I can be found here.

If you read/liked/clicked through to see this review here on GR, many thanks.
Elizabeth Moffat
This is a really interesting book to review. Its a few stories that are all inter-linked by the subject of mothers and birth. I did enjoy two stories more than the others, hence the three star rating. Also, as someone without children at the moment, some parts were incredibly scary - hope I'm not put off for life!(joke)
Aug 02, 2010 Carly rated it it was ok
I was intrigued that this book was set 100 years ago, today, and years into the future. However, I found the number of characters confusing and I struggled to connect with one specific. I didn't feel as though the resolution was satisfactory either. On a positive note, I enjoyed analyzing it later... though I would have enjoyed it more with an English teacher.
Aruna Kumar Gadepalli
Probably one tough book that I could finish don't get me wrong, I am talking about the quality of the book is really high for me. There are four different narratives which are linked to the main theme. Till the last page the book is interesting.
May 28, 2011 Greta rated it liked it
Recommended to Greta by: Ruth via
Shelves: fiction
After a lively discussion about the book and my realization that I originally rated it based on my dislike for the whiny, neurotic characters and a portion of Sci-Fi which I detest, I am upgrading my rating to reflect that there actually was more to this book than I was able to see at first read.
Nov 07, 2010 Jill rated it did not like it
A good premise but poorly written. The title of misleading,and the story is dark. The 3 different story lines minimally fit together and parts are very contrived. Would not recommend this book to anyone.
Valley Cottage Library
SUMMER READING CLUB: "The joys and perils of childbirth and pregnancy- past, present and future. It's scary that many of the books about the future show how dehumanized our society is expected to become."
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Repeat It Today with Tears
  • The Swimmer
  • The Pleasure Seekers
  • The Seas
  • Grace Williams Says It Loud
  • Lyrics Alley
  • The Flying Man
  • Whatever You Love
  • The London Train
  • The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives
  • The Translation of the Bones
  • Daughter of Earth
  • Tides of War
  • The Life of a Banana
  • Mateship With Birds
  • Fred & Edie
  • The Home-Maker
  • Private Guns, Public Health
Joanna Kavenna is a prize-winning British novelist and travel writer.

Kavenna spent her childhood in Suffolk and the Midlands as well as various other parts of Britain. She has also lived in the United States, France, Germany, Scandinavia and the Baltic States.

These travels led to her first book, The Ice Museum, which was published in 2005. It was nominated for the Guardian First Book Award in that
More about Joanna Kavenna...

Share This Book