Title: The Birthday Party
Author: Laurent Mauvignier
Translated from the French by Daniel Levin Becker
Publisher: Fitzcarraldo Editions
Genre: Literary Fiction
The Birthday Party by Laurent Mauvignier will test your patience. Nothing happens till the book reaches the last 250 pages or so. A lot happens – a lot more than we can imagine and Mauvignier takes us through lives in a hamlet, with such unassuming clarity and nonchalant writing that as a reader you feel removed and involved at the same time – if that can ever happen while reading a book, and yet it did happen to me.
The Birthday Party takes place in the present time, hurling back into time, traversing happiness, and melancholy, only for the characters to tumble into unbearable catastrophe. Patrice, a farmer in a French hamlet, is out on an errand for his wife Marion’s 40th birthday. Their daughter Ida is on her way home from school to get a cake ready with their solitary artist neighbour Christine. In seconds, or rather what seems pages and pages, Christine and Ida get taken hostage by intruders. Why did this happen? What was the reason? Who is behind this? Is it connected to Patrice, Marion, and Christine’s past?
There is a lot to cover to get to the answers. Long winding paragraphs, each character and their experiences are fleshed with great care, the translation by Daniel Levin Becker is busy – all over the place, given how the original is – till the reader finds a rhythm and pace to the chaos that is about the unleash itself, both on the reader and the characters.
The Birthday Party is so much more than what meets the eye. A book about families, about should the past really matter when it comes down to it, about what we have done that cannot be undone, about the evening itself, about what we truly know when it comes to those closest to us, and what lays beneath – quietly, silently, most dramatically, waiting to explode.