The Birthday Party by Laurent Mauvignier, translated by David Levin Becker (International Booker Prize 2023 longlist)

…she’s going to shout, she has to, pounce on whichever one is closest to the door and who maybe won’t have come into the house yet, or who will maybe still have her hand on the doorknob, the door not closed behind her, to tell her to not close it, to leave, to get back in her car, to scream at her that they shouldn’t be here because the men aren’t friends, they took Tatie, they killed Rajah, we’re not doing anything because we’re terrified of them and they’re laughing at us, at the time they’re taking to torment us because we’re scared of them, of what they want, we don’t know what they want, or why they decided to stay here like this for the whole party and then afterwards, afterwards what are they gonna do to us, we don’t even know what they’re gonna do to us…

p. 346

Normally, I don’t like to read sentences that go on for half the page. But, it is in this way that the reader feels the tension mount, as layer by layer the story is revealed.

Although a birthday party is supposed to be a joyous affair, this one is like a slow motion horror film exquisitely displayed through cinematic sentences.

The hamlet of the Three Lone Girls has three houses: one for Patrice Bergogne, his wife, Marion, and their daughter, Ida; one for Christine; and one for sale. The novel opens with Christine reporting anonymous letters, which have been slid under her door, to the police. It then progresses to a man inquiring about the sale of the empty home. But, everything tragically escalates, the night of Marion’s 40th birthday, when Christine’s dog is silenced with a knife, and the “birthday party” begins.

Three brothers, Denis, Christophe, and Stutter, have arrived to “celebrate” with Marion, to “host” a party which is anything but. The reason why they are there is gradually shown to us, leaving the reader in as much suspense as the guests, except for Marion herself. She knows why they are there. She knows what Denis is capable of.

I found The Birthday Party to be a most engrossing novel, expertly executed through the hands of both its author and translator. The story is richly detailed, the themes are timeless. Surely, this will find a place in the International Booker Prize short list, if not at the very top.

4 thoughts on “The Birthday Party by Laurent Mauvignier, translated by David Levin Becker (International Booker Prize 2023 longlist)”

    1. Oh, you really do need to read it in French! You would be fully immersed, even more so than I am. Still, Becker did a fantastic job translating this novel; I can’t imagine how he could convey the atmosphere, the tension, the themes of parenting and marriage and inner fortitude and belonging as well as he has.

      Liked by 1 person

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