Well, this turned out to be quite a page-turner. From one angle, that’s not so surprising, as there’s plenty of suspense in the set-up. In rural France, artist Christine has been receiving threatening letters. Her neighbour Patrice is getting ready to celebrate his wife Marion’s fortieth birthday. But some mysterious figures are watching, waiting to intrude on the party.
In other ways, The Birthday Party might seem the opposite of a page-turner, because it’s slowly paced and densely written. For example, here is Patrice trying not to contemplate that Marion may be unhappy in their relationship:
…he doesn’t think to himself that his wife goes out of her way to come home late, as though trying to avoid the moment where it’s the three of them together, no, he pushes away this thought that sometimes tries to force its way past the barrier he’s built up against it, a fraction of a second every night, sometimes more than a second, a few seconds, then, when the thought gets loose and spreads across his mind, but each time he rejects this bad, this acid idea that would have Marion go out of her way to come home as late as possible, no, that’s not true…translation from french by daniel levin becker
I love the rhythm of this writing, a fine translation. Mauvignier’s prose combines this constant flow of interiority with sudden interruptions of action, and this technique is what makes the novel so propulsive for me. There are secrets and turns throughout, right up to the end – and we’re kept so close to the characters, too.
Book published by Fitzcarraldo Editions.
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