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[291] Molly Fox’s Birthday – Deirdre Madden

” Is the self really such a fluid thing, something we invent as we go along, almost as a social reflex? Perhaps it is instead the truest thing about us, and it is the revelation of it that is the problem; that so much social interchange is inherently false, and real communication can only be achieved in ways that seem strange and artificial. ” [214]

In Molly Fox’s Birthday, over the course of one day, during the height of summer in Dublin, a close friend to whom Molly has loaned her house reflects upon the years and the many phases of friendship with Molly and their college friend Andrew. Alone in Molly’s house, and among all her possessions, the playwright, who struggles to complete her latest play because the previous project had been an ignominy, examines their closeness in the early days and how transformations to success in their respective career has changed the dynamics of their friendship.

The initial delight, the sense of connection, and then the distancing, the unravelling of that connection as information is exchanged and it becomes clear why one hasn’t stayed in touch. Defensiveness sets in, and it all ends in melancholy when one is alone again. [106]

The beautifully poised novel, despite the non-linearity, perfectly portrays life’s caprice through what essentially define life—family, friendship and relationship. As each of the characters cope with triumph, romantic happiness, disappointment, and shock, the novel poses meaningful questions about the presentation of self, about the need for temporary withdrawal from friendship, and perhaps, the necessity for falsehood. Molly Fox’s Birthday is a meditation on friendship and fluidity of self, because we are at each moment of our lives the persons we were and shall become. Madden demonstrates even in the closest relationship there exists areas of reserve and distance that cannot be shared or entered into.

Over the few years I had known her she had drip-fed me bits of information [about her family] . . . Molly sets the tone for any encounter: from day one I have always known instinctively what not to say, when she wanted an issue addressed . . . [96-97]

He told me that his son had just been born. Coming straight from the delivery room, he was in a strange state of extreme emotional openness . . . [108]

In one day’s time, Madden prises the well-guarded nutshells of her three characters, the three friends, who are connected mostly deeply through their emotionally charged moments, in which they comfort, console, and communicate one another in career bumps, failed marriage, unspoken affection, and family tensions. Molly Fox’s Birthday is honestly told that it feels (reads) less like fiction than personal revelation. It illustrates how one memory triggers another. The book quickly engages my attention and sympathy because of the narrator’s sincere desire to know the Molly that she doesn’t know. It’s written with microscopic sensitivity.

221 pp. Picador Paper. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

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26 Responses

  1. this sounds beautiful. the beginning sounds like a woolf “day in the life of” book.

    i’ll take your advice and buy it.

    • This book has induced a domino effect: I passed it on to my friend Rick, who just finished it today and he will be giving it to another friend of mine to read. I hope the same pattern will occur among book bloggers.

  2. Just finished this book a week or so ago, but have yet to get my thoughts down (I loved it!)… will be back to read you review when I’m done.

  3. This sounds wonderful. I can literally spend hours lost in memory threads sometimes. I even happen upon things that I forgotten for years. Sadly, we often only reflect back on our friends once they are gone.

    • I enjoyed reading this book tremendously because as the narrator reflects upon her life and friendships, counting her grace and love, her mind will nudge to the direction of her memories. Many passages are just so spot on and make me go: “That’s exactly how I feel about this person in my life.”

  4. The last two lines sold me! I do find memory triggers fascinating and how we discover parts of ourselves that we never knew were buried deep down inside.

    • I was thinking how lucky and incredible it would be if I can reflect upon my friendships just the narrator does. The book is just a journey to her “onion” of life and friendship, peeling deeper and deeper to examine the texture and nuances.

  5. This one has been on my radar since the Orange Prize last year, but I still haven’t read it. Thanks for the reminder to make it more of a priority!

    • Thanks also to the Orange Prize because I would have never discovered Deirdre Madden, who has written five other books before Molly Fox and I have never heard of her!

  6. The last two lines sold me as well! I had never heard of this book until I read your review but you did a very nice job. Looks like it’s fairly short as well so maybe I’ll search it out.

    • It’s not too long of a book but because it chronicles the narrator’s reflection of her friendships on a day, there is no chapter break.

  7. Sounds like a good book and one that I would enjoy…Thanks for the review!

  8. I’ve been watching the image of this one in your sidebar for (what seems like) ages and am so glad to finally hear about it; something about it intrigued me visually (along with a memory of the author’s Orange Prize listings) and I’m pleased to find that your description of the story itself intrigues me as well now.

    • Ha! I apologize that the sidebar had been a bit deceptive. I have placed Molly Fox on the blog since I first read about the book on a foreign publication. The book was released in the UK and Ireland in 2008 but had not made its way over the pond to the US until April 2010. I do have to say it’s very frustrating that foreign literature doesn’t get the promotion it deserves here. Are we being so insular now that we only care about what is written here, which is mostly Chick Lit?

  9. […] [291] Molly Fox’s Birthday – Deirdre Madden […]

  10. Thanks for the review! I just got the book based on your review. Can’t wait to read it.

    • I’m so excited some of you bloggers have gone out and hunt down the book. It’s a great read: very thoughtful and well-written.

  11. […] Molly Fox’s Birthday Deirdre Madden: In one day’s time, Madden prises the well-guarded nutshells of her three characters, the three friends, who are connected mostly deeply through their emotionally charged moments, in which they comfort, console, and communicate one another in career bumps, failed marriage, unspoken affection, and family tensions. […]

  12. […] progression of events. The style actually mirrors to that of the winner of Orange Prize that year, Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden. At the moment I’m re-reading The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, […]

  13. […] I am not on the board) and, hey, even other bloggers liked it. Check out Matt’s review at A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook. He has some beautiful […]

  14. […] Molly Fox’s Birthday Deirdre Madden. In one day’s time, Madden prises the well-guarded nutshells of her three characters, the three friends, who are connected mostly deeply through their emotionally charged moments, in which they comfort, console, and communicate one another in career bumps, failed marriage, unspoken affection, and family tensions. […]

  15. […] book you liked better than you expected to: Molly Fox’s Birthday Deirdre […]

  16. […] Beloved. One book that is highly intellectual but never loses focus on the big picture is Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden. In one day’s time, the book plies the well-guarded nutshells of her three […]

  17. […] have not heard of, a book he regards more highly than Great House so I popped over to his review of Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden. Matt writes, “Molly Fox’s Birthday is a meditation on friendship and […]

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