Alan's Reviews > The Birth Machine

The Birth Machine by Elizabeth Baines
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really liked it
bookshelves: novels, read-in-2012

I won this! Will be reading shortly..
didn't get as much reading done as i thought over the holidays, but did start this - up to p30, and so far it's a strange but compelling combination of (descriptions of) childhood play and induced labour..

..I needn’t have worried - it all comes together in a coherent and powerful way. Zelda as a child and Zelda the adult are ‘victims’ of larger things around them – in the childhood bit there is a murder of a child and she feels implicated because they (her friends and her playing with dolls and witches spells) sent the boy (who was murdered) away and thus contributed to his fate, and maybe will have to answer to policemen and the machinery of law; as a pregnant adult she is the unknowing subject in the trial of an induction programme to prove a professor’s theory about the optimum life of the placenta. Men are in charge here, they know best. The pregnant woman is treated like a child… a bit Stepford Wife-like as her husband, a timid medical researcher, may be using her to please his ‘boss’ (the professor). Her pregnancy is treated as an opportunity to try out new techniques regardless of her own wishes - and without her knowledge - and to please men (a trasverse incision. More commonly known as a bikini-line incision. …Oh, good. Now Zelda will be able to wander half clad on beaches, her sexual viability intact.)

Mixes fairy tale, satire (of the medical profession and its lecture circuit), technical language, hallucination and realism and can be a mite confusing. It is deliberately obscure in places to heighten tension. Although a little confused I was gripped, especially by the childhood scenes- the part where the children run off pursued by a policeman across a swampy building site is tremendous: The slab Zelda was standing on squelched beneath her like a spoon in jelly. I did hanker after more on the murder, and maybe more on the professor and Zelda’s husband, but Zelda herself is a fully rounded character, flawed and manipulated and drugged, she finally breaks free of all.

For me what impressed most was the language (see the lines and phrases quoted above), well observed and precise:The wine, meant to be white, lapped green in the glass, gathering, when it was moved, small black shadows, like spores drawn in then dissolved. It stank faintly like mould.

Along with birds and fish food features a lot here, particularly vegetables, pulled out of the ground, tasting wrong: The stew with swede wasn’t very tasty .. the potatoes..cut into chips and heaped in a pile, creamy and wet looking, beginning to turn orange, cold and powdery and bitter to the tongue.

This was originally published by the Womens' Press in 1982 (the author restores the original running order though as the Press re-arranged some chapters), but it doesn't seem dated at all, and although a feminist book it is not just for feminists.
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Reading Progress

December 14, 2011 – Shelved as: novels
December 14, 2011 – Shelved
January 3, 2012 – Started Reading
January 9, 2012 – Finished Reading
December 13, 2012 – Shelved as: read-in-2012

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