Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden

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Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis
Reviewed by Trish Simpson-Davis
Summary: As an Irish writer waits for inspiration her mind runs back over a 20-year triangular friendship and the exploration needed by each of the friends to understand their own place in the world. Full of wise nuggets; an absorbing read which will please lovers of quiet, understated novels.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: April 2009
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571239665

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I've just bought a new pair of shoes to complete a wedding outfit. They're very grown up, with discreet detailing offsetting a subtle glow of silver and white leather. My feet look suddenly elegant, not their usual, workmanlike appearance in trainers or flip flops. Molly and her personal circle are like those shoes: sophisticated artifice hides reality from us. Deidre Madden's writing leads us on, sure-footed, delicate and subtly questioning how we see ourselves and how we connect with others.

This is an introspective novel so realistically observed that I hesitate to call its technique stream of consciousness. The narration is more of a gentle conversation with the reader in which nothing much happens, yet whole lives are stripped down to their essence and exposed. Psychologically, the characters are spot-on. My reading of the book picked up the paradoxes in the characters' identities; no doubt readers will find other meanings to ponder.

We enter Molly Fox's house in Dublin, lent to the narrator while Molly is in New York. Molly is a renowned actress, her friend of twenty years a successful playwright. Andrew, college friend and brothers Tom and Fergus lurk in the shadows to people the story. Dublin's sophisticated informality is contrasted with grey, enduring Northern Island as conversations from the past pervade the narrator's mind.

Molly's normal reserve and need for anonymity is at odds with her commanding stage persona. To maintain emotional distance from others, Molly has constructed layers around her identity, history and physical self which her friend peels away and deconstructs for us. What is the nature of Molly's relationship with Andrew, old college friend, for instance? And why has she moved into a spiritual relationship with the narrator's brother, a parish priest? Why is Molly so protective of her brother when she has rejected her mother? Entering Molly's self-perceptions, probing her brilliant social circle feels deliciously intrusive, so close are we, eventually, to the stripped character laid bare.

Another paradox is the narrator herself, a successful playwright with writer's block. As she sits at Molly's desk on the longest day of the year, she struggles in search of the 'Aha' moment of inspiration. It's a battle between the confidence needed for creating and writing and her own insecurities. Judging by what I've heard and read over the years, many writers will recognize this delicate, long-winded balancing act called the creative process.

The three male characters offer other paradoxes. Andrew is a natural on tv, at odds with his academic vocation. It's strange but true to life that he works out his personal anxieties by academic inquiry. His interest in church art reflects the irony that his parents worship his murdered, probably murdering, Loyalist brother. Over the years, the parents remain disinterested in the successful son. Andrew himself eventually allocates art its rightful place in the grand scheme of beauty.

Deidre Madden does her mastery of writing a disservice when she observes … the kind of voracity with which small children read books … the same visceral passion, the same complete trust in the imagination which is so difficult to sustain throughout the course of one's whole life. Well, I didn't find it difficult to succumb completely to such a perfectly imagined other world.

Molly Fox's Birthday is complete and perfect. However, much as I enjoyed reading this book, when I finished, the thread broke. For some reason, no loose or fraying ends were left to ponder afterwards.

I'd like to thank Faber and Faber for sending me a good read.

If Irish settings and characters interest you, other books from the Bookbag's shelves which we like include Soft Voices Whispering by Adrienne Dines, Lovers' Hollow by Orna Ross, The Gathering by Anne Enright and A Bit of a Scandal by Mary Rose Callaghan.

The Bookbag is following the Orange Prize for Fiction 2009 nominees.

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Buy Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden at

Booklists.jpg Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden is in the Orange Prize for Fiction 2009.


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