The Birthday Party

Laurent Mauvignier

Translated by Daniel Levin Becker

Published 18 January 2023 | French paperback with flaps, 504 pages
Longlisted for the 2023 International Booker Prize

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The Birthday Party is available as an audiobook through Spiracle.

Buried deep in rural France, little remains of the isolated hamlet of the Three Lone Girls, save a few houses and a curiously assembled quartet: Patrice Bergogne, inheritor of his family’s farm; his wife, Marion; their daughter, Ida; and their neighbour, Christine, an artist. While Patrice plans a surprise for his wife’s fortieth birthday, inexplicable events start to disrupt the hamlet’s quiet existence: anonymous, menacing letters, an unfamiliar car rolling up the driveway. And as night falls, strangers stalk the houses, unleashing a nightmarish chain of events.
  Told in rhythmic, propulsive prose that weaves seamlessly from one consciousness to the next over the course of a day, Laurent Mauvignier’s The Birthday Party is a deft unravelling of the stories we hide from others and from ourselves, a gripping tale of the violent irruptions of the past into the present, written by a major contemporary French writer. 

Evening Standard Books of the Year 2023 | Prospect Books of the Year 2023

The Birthday Party is a strange and marvellous thing: a thriller in slow motion. The tension builds so patiently that you almost miss it, with the result that when shocking events occur it’s too late to turn away. This is a dark and discomfiting work of beauty and violence, made all the more disturbing by its idyllic setting.’
— Jon McGregor, author of Lean Fall Stand

‘This is a tension-ratcheting novel in which, over the space of a single day, the past breaks brutally into the present. There are shades of Joyce and Faulkner, but Mauvignier’s writing is entirely his own: in lyrical, digressive, shapeshifting narrative, Mauvignier merges psychological depth and penetrating character study with the relentlessness of a cold-blooded thriller. A triumphant, genre-crossing book.’
— Patrick McGuinness, author of Throw Me to the Wolves

‘Imagine a Stephen King thriller hijacked by Proust. Clammy-handed suspense, nerve-shredding tension, but related in serpentine, elegant prose, each climax held suspended – deferred gratification. What Javier Marías did for the spy story, Laurent Mauvignier does for terror…. Daniel Levin Becker’s graceful translation … perfectly captures the mesmerising rhythms and menace of this gripping psychological literary thriller.’
Lee Langley, Spectator

‘If I start by calling Laurent Mauvignier’s The Birthday Party a psychological thriller, understand that this means what you probably think it means, but also something else. It means a nail-biter plot, but also a focus on characters’ interior worlds so detailed that at times I forgot there was a plot at all. It is psychological, on the one hand, and a thriller, on the other, as if the book were two books at once…. a real-time study in crippling self-consciousness, the fragility of normalcy and the reality of violence.’
Martin Riker, New York Times

‘A chilling, masterful work. [The Birthday Party] dwells in that dim, haunted space between violence and mundanity, repression and revelation – that rare thing, a genre-bending novel that sacrifices neither its literary merits nor its pulpy thrills. It has bitter truths to tell: solitude is no escape from the petulance and violence of men; no matter how well you compartmentalize your life’s contradictions, you will one day be called to account; self-hatred will make you scorn those who love you, the fools; the greatest horror is other people; your final confessions will come too late; the past is never buried; the dead will be raised.’
Charlie Lee, Gawker

‘Mauvignier’s ability to keep the shocks coming … are among the qualities that make this riveting novel so nastily effective. Managing dynamic action as well as split-second psychological shifts … the whole shebang culminates in an extravagantly choreographed set-piece blow-out of nigh-on unbearable jeopardy … this macabre twist on the marriage-portrait novel ultimately invites prudence and humility on the thorny question of how much can we ever know about those closest to us.’
Anthony Cummings, Observer

‘Daniel Levin Becker’s translation renders Mauvignier’s prose as fluid, often lovely…. Mauvignier’s erudite thriller proves as interested in the grander deceptions of storyline as it is the ways we deceive ourselves.’ 
Jonathan McAloon, Financial Times

‘The tension of the novel increases greatly but the style of the novel – the attentive detailing of each character’s attempt to comprehend these unfolding events – remains steadfast, giving it the quality of a Michael Haneke film…. This astute thriller doesn’t disappoint.’
Declan O’Driscoll, The Irish Times

‘Taut and propulsive … [The Birthday Party’s] tensions arise less from the question of what will happen at the end than of who each person will become once all the secrets are out. There is a thrilling sense of instability in each stream-of-consciousness narration, as the characters are forced to quickly assimilate startling realizations about their loved ones.’
— Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

The Birthday Party is characteristically stylish and intellectually ambitious, but it is also built around an immersive, suspenseful story: it is a thriller that experiments as much as it thrills…. But this is also a remarkably open book, since it invites itself to be read in a number of ways…. Daniel Levin Becker’s translation is excellent – nimble and accurate throughout – and does justice to Laurent Mauvignier’s suggestive prose.’
Russell Williams, Times Literary Supplement

‘[R]emarkable…. Readers whose tastes run to the pacey thrillers of James Patterson may find their patience frayed by the glacial progress of this quasi-Proustian noir. But if the beer god had meant everyone to drink Miller Light, he wouldn’t have given the Belgian Trappists all those rich recipes. A compelling blend of mystery, horror, and suspense.’
Kirkus starred review

‘One of France’s most talented writers.’
France Today

‘It is truly a great book: enthralling, impressive and fascinating in its literary methods…. I was totally captivated by its sentences that build up pleasure, terror and anxiety, their long, slow rhythms that create its dynamic and tension just as much as the situation itself.’
— Jean-Claude Raspiengeas, Le Masque et la Plume

‘What matters, as always in Mauvignier’s work, is giving a voice to the voiceless, the worthless, the unloved, the humiliated, even if this is done with unprecedented violence. For on this isolated farm where the drama is played out, the aggressors and the victims are more alike than we might think. All of them settle their scores with a destiny that has wronged them.’
— Jérôme Garcin, BibliObs

‘[It] is Mauvignier’s writing, his undulating sentences, that makes this novel an exceptional work, and elevates this forgotten France to the rank of literary subject.’
— Sylvie Tanette, Les Inrockuptibles

‘Each of his books produce the same shock; the shock of the magnificence of his language, which, like a tidal wave, slices its sentences in the middle of a line, then lets them crash onto the page; the shock of the force of his characters torn apart by trauma, dragged into a rush of events beyond their control…. The Birthday Party is a thriller about the pretences that coat every life.’
— Martine Landrot, Télérama

‘It’s that marriage of … character-based study and thriller plot … that makes Mauvignier’s book excel. Of course, the two have always leant on each other; Mauvignier just makes that trust exercise more obvious. This is because The Birthday Party is particularly good at exploring the way people think in their own separate spheres, and then asking what happens when those spheres converge.’
Lucy Thynne, Review 31

Laurent Mauvignier was born in Tours in 1967. He gained a degree in Fine Art from the École des Beaux Arts in 1991, and published his first novel, Loin d’eux [Far from Them], in 1999. He has since written numerous novels, including In the Crowd (2006), The Wound (2009) and Continuer [Carrying On] (2018), all published by Éditions de Minuit, and is the winner of eleven literary prizes, including the Prix Wepler and the Prix Amerigo-Vespucci. He is also a playwright and has written scripts for TV and film. The Birthday Party is his first book with Fitzcarraldo Editions.

Daniel Levin Becker is the author of Many Subtle Channels and What’s Good, the translator of books including Georges Perec’s La Boutique Obscure and Eduardo Berti’s An Ideal Presence, and the youngest member of the Oulipo.