Released: April 2015
Many stories have good opening lines. It’s all part of the plan to draw you in. When a novel has a curious title like this one those first lines need an extra element to reassure you that you’re reading something that’s going to be right for you. After Birth begins with “The houses are amazing in this shit box town.” From then on I knew I would not be disappointed and I was right.
The novel charts Ari’s first years of motherhood and the isolation she feels living in a not quite up and coming, not yet anyway, suburb of Utrecht – about an hour out of, and a lifetime away from, the life she left behind in Brooklyn. The baby is almost a year old when Ari begins her narrative. Her opening lines somehow convey the anger and isolation but also the sense of awe she feels about the place where she is living and the person she is becoming.
Ari’s husband, Paul is a lecturer at the local University and for him life has changed little since the baby was born but Ari is struggling to raise their son and complete her PhD. Sometimes she seems to struggle just to get through a day, she feels so lonely and sleep deprived. “Paul was always somewhere, doing something. Paul was still a part of the world. Paul was still in possession of his mind, body, spirit. It felt like he was avoiding me. I had begun to hate him a little because I wished badly to avoid myself too.”
When her neighbours and friends take a year out for a sabbatical in Rome life livens up for Ari briefly as they let their home to Mina Morris – a poet, one time musician, and Ari’s heroine. Through her friendship with the pregnant Mina, Ari begins to rediscover herself. Along the way she describes with great honesty and clarity the reality of life as a mother who, for the main part, is trapped at home.
Although Paul seems to be a compassionate and mature husband he never quite seems to grasp Ari’s frustration. He is persistent though, helping to make sure she has child care so she can carry on working on her PhD and work at the local store for a few hours a week. Ari’s anger often seems to be directed at Paul but it is directed to the baby at other times although her love for them always shines onto the page.
This novel is a really useful and practical guide for someone considering starting up a family. Elisa Albert captures the atmosphere and mood swings of a new and nursing mother. Ari is a person who, although she loves her baby can’t help feeling resentful towards him at times for the upheaval he’s caused. She charts the difficulty of getting through the day on no sleep and little food, pushing a pram around endlessly and aimlessly in a quest to stop the baby crying. She describes it all so vividly she brought memories, good and bad, flooding back for me.
This is a novel that could be used to great effect as a deterrent to younger girls determined to embark on motherhood early. More than that though, it is an excellent and compelling read about a very everyday occurrence.