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 neighbor, 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.
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 precisely because genres like westerns, mysteries or thrillers traditionally rely on high drama and plot twists that filling them up with small things...can be so evocative and strange ... Not an ironic thriller, but one that truly thrills ... Mauvignier writes wonderfully winding sentences — meticulously translated by Daniel Levin Becker — that zoom in on his characters’ thoughts and feelings in painstaking detail ... The novel maintains its depth, its scrutinizing slowness: a real-time study in crippling self-consciousness, the fragility of normalcy and the reality of violence.
A deft English translation ... Mauvignier steadily unravels the shared illusions that prop up these domestic patterns, so familiar and drained of heat ... Mauvignier’s style is particularly well-suited to depicting this frame of mind, plumbing the subterranean operations of paranoia and denial. He writes in billowing, propulsive sentences, sometimes multiple pages long ... The grim achievement of Mauvignier’s seething, recursive, semi-improvisational style lies in how he manages to portray a muddled mind...with precise lucidity ... This is not — or not merely — a domestic drama, or a portrait of masculine anger and perplexity. It is, above all, a thriller ... A chilling, masterful work. It 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.
The scenes, captured in a fine, controlled translation by Daniel Levin Becker, are taut and propulsive, though not without plot holes ... Mr. Mauvignier follows in a prestigious French tradition of stylized improvisations on popular genre forms and The Birthday Party is not a book to pick up if you want a perfectly executed thriller ... It is instead a book about character ... Mr. Mauvignier peels back those layers of reality in order to better grasp the people they finally form, a composite far more profound than the sum of its parts.