The Breeding Season is a novel that grapples with big ideas: the connections between death; grief, mortality and the bodily experience of them; how the male gaze preconditions how women (and female animals) are portrayed and described in science and art. It is an ambitious book, and the ideas that drive it are one of its main pleasures, even if they sometimes overburden the narrative.
Niehaus’s novel centres on a couple: Elise, a scientist who specialises in reproduction, and Dan, a writer whose work has mined his personal and family history, and who is currently ghost-writing an autobiography for his uncle, a notorious artist. Elise has just delivered a stillborn child. The couple are wracked by grief, unable to connect to each other, let alone come to terms with what has befallen them. Elise is bedridden, Dan wanders listlessly through the house, until both are shocked into action – Dan by a phone call from his uncle’s charming and provocative lover and muse, Hannah Wallace; Elise by the death of a sparrow that flies into her bedroom window.