Monday, July 5

The Birthday Present - Barbara Vine

Married Tory MP Ivor Tesham is a rising star in the dying days of the Thatcher government. He also has a keen taste for bondage, and a long-standing affair with Hebe Furnal, the married mother of a young boy. To celebrate Hebe's birthday, in addition to the string of pearls her unaware husband won't be able to distinguish from the costume variety, Ivor sets the scene for the fulfillment of an elaborate fantasy - he hires two men to abduct and bind Hebe then transport her to his cousin's country home for a weekend of adventurous, role-playing sex. What could possibly go wrong?
The Birthday Present is narrated through a combination of Ivor's cousin Rob Delgado's reflections almost two decades later, and diary entries from Hebe's friend Jane, who often provided alibis for the affair. I read a review of the novel soon after its 2008 release, and it's been on my To Read list ever since.
It's significantly disappointing, therefore, that I found The Birthday Present so politically dense that I didn't even make it to the abduction, or even the first mention of it (which is only on page 32 in the copy I had). I didn't like Rob's voice, and that got in the way of my engagement with the text. The unheralded switch from his voice to Jane's diary was obvious by tone but not signalled, and I found that annoying, too. I'm hoping this isn't a sign of the month to come but just an indication of the depth of enjoyment the Seafort saga has provided, and the difficulty other novels will have in comparison. Watch this space! - Alex

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