This gripping tale of the violent irruptions of the past into the present, from a major contemporary French writer, is a deft unravelling of the stories we hide from others - and from ourselves.

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.  

The Birthday Party was longlisted for the International Booker Prize 2023, announced on March 14 2023. 

The International Booker Prize 2023
Published by
Fitzcarraldo Editions
Publication date

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 Laurent Mauvignier

Laurent Mauvignier

About the Author

Laurent Mauvignier was born in Tours in 1967 and published his first novel, Loin d’eux (Far from Them], in 1999.
More about Laurent Mauvignier
Daniel Levin Becker

Daniel Levin Becker

About the Translator

Daniel Levin Becker is a critic, editor and translator from Chicago, who now lives in Paris.
More about Daniel Levin Becker

Laurent Mauvignier on The Birthday Party

‘Initially, [The Birthday Party] was a script for a medium-length film that I wanted to direct. The film drew on the conventions of the home invasion movie. The more it seemed that the film wasn’t going to be made, the more I asked myself how a book could make use of the story, and with which literary methods. I told myself that literature, more so than cinema, could capture the span and the dilation of time, the psychological excavation of each character, the way that their pasts resurge in the narrative. In a nutshell: a novel in the vein of Stephen King… with the language of Marcel Proust (relatively speaking, of course!). I think it’s important to say that there are two films I very much had in mind: The Visitors, dir. Elia Kazan (1972) and Day of the Outlaw, dir. André de Toth (1959). And a few books, including Saturday by Ian McEwan, some novels by the Spanish writer Javier Marias and by the American novelists Cormac McCarthy and Joyce Carol Oates, as well as authors whose work on language nourishes my own writing, like the Portuguese writer Antonio Lobo Antunes and the Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai.’

Read the full interview here

 Laurent Mauvignier

What the judges said

‘This impressive and fascinating book reconciles two primal feelings: empathy and dread. It is a very scary book, rooted in the traditions of horror. It is as scary as when we listened to stories about ogres and wolves as children.’

What the critics said

Martin Riker, The New York Times Book Review

‘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.’

Lee Langley, The Spectator (UK)

‘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 […] The Birthday Party explores memory, revenge and love tested to the limit. Mauvignier, a leading French writer and multiple prize-winner, is well served by Daniel Levin Becker’s graceful translation which perfectly captures the mesmerising rhythms and menace of this gripping psychological literary thriller.’

Susie Goldsbrough, The Times (UK)

‘It would be useless to pretend that The Birthday Party feels anything like your standard airport thriller. It is, as I mentioned, set almost entirely across a single day; what I omitted was that it’s 500 pages long. That’s about 20 pages per hour. The sentences are long, very long sometimes, light on punctuation and circle round their subjects in snaking coils […] Does kind of work as a thriller. The slow-motion sentences become piled up with suspense like snow-laden branches. You have to wait and wait and wait for the violence that is so clearly just a few hours — or a few hundred pages — from erupting.’


‘The amount of detail and digression that Mauvignier explores in his slow, finely drawn (and smoothly translated) dissection of these lives is remarkable and goes far to sustaining interest amid minimal action. 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.’

Publishers Weekly

‘The omniscient narration moves elegantly from exterior descriptions to the recesses of the characters’ thoughts, and Becker’s translation lends menace and grace. Recalling art-shock movies like Funny Games, this is pleasurably cinematic even as it penetrates deep psychological mysteries. Readers will be riveted.’

The Birthday Party