Procreation in three disparate centuries and societies is the primal subject of a prize-winning British writer’s original second novel.
Kavenna (Inglorious, 2007) creates an unusual structure for the book, establishing four different narrative strands and visiting each twice as she traces the urges, dangers, mythologies, moods and supreme force of childbirth across time. In a mid-19th-century Viennese mental asylum, deranged Professor Semmelweis babbles about a massacre of women, meaning the victims of puerperal fever infected by ignorant doctors passing germs from the dead to the living. Is this episode in fact an excerpt from The Moon, a novel about Semmelweis and the mythic mother written by 21st-century author and social outsider Michael Stone? Another of the book’s contemporary characters is heavily pregnant Brigid Hayes, who is juggling her toddler, her mother and her chaotic feelings while she undergoes an increasingly brutal labor. Meanwhile, in 2153, prisoners 730004, 5 and 6 speak of a totalitarian society on a ruined planet Earth, where the species is generated from harvested eggs and sperm. Yet even here the essential cycle of life defies suppression. Moving smoothly among gothic, naturalistic and futuristic modes and cross-connecting strands and ideas, Kavenna displays technical dexterity while offering a textured assessment—from the corporeal to the cerebral—of a totemic subject.