Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden
Published by Faber and Faber at 12.99 euro.
Reviewed by Sue Leonard.
Published in The Irish Examiner 9th August 2008.
It’s the 21st June, the longest day, when the unnamed narrator of Molly Fox’s Birthday wakes from a dream. She cannot, at first, think where she is. Then she remembers; she is living in her best friend Molly Fox’s Dublin house, while the renowned actress takes a sojourn in New York.
So starts this latest novel from Deirdre Madden; an Orange Prize shortlisted author from the North, who teaches at Trinity College Dublin.
The narrator, a playwright, is trying to start a new play, but she can’t concentrate. So she spends the day ruminating on her past, and remembering the friends who have sustained her along the way. Foremost is Molly. The two met through the play that made them both famous.
The friendship between Molly and the narrator seems uncomplicated at the start of the novel. Both passionate about the theatre, and believing a play ‘wasn’t something that you saw, it was something that happened to you,’ they loved dissecting their roles.
As the day progresses, though, we start to see a darker side to the friendship. As the narrator potters around Dublin, deep in thought, the complexities of Molly’s character are gradually laid bare.
The past leaks into the present in the evening, when Molly’s brother appears, forgetting his sister is away. He is followed by Andrew, the narrator’s best friend from Trinity days; a once troubled student from the North, who has reinvented himself as a TV art historian.
The narrator is dismayed that both visitors fail to look pleased when they find her there. And talking to them, of Molly, we start to doubt what we know about the actress. Is she perhaps using her friend, or even deceiving her?
And what of the narrator? She nearly married twice, but got cold feet. Staying single, she tells us, was a mistake. But in the final pages, we are shocked to find that she, too, has been disingenuous in her account.
Nothing much happens in this novel about identity, friendship, and families, yet I felt subsumed into the world Madden has created from the first page. I loved her insights into the theatrical life.
This book should be read slowly, with every word savoured. Madden has an extraordinary insight into the way people interact. Her account is both haunting, and enlightening.
Copyright. Sue Leonard. 2008.