So I’m taking a break from my official world tour. I’m back in Ireland catching up on my Orange Prize reads for the quarter. I picked this novel for its length. I needed to get three Orange Prize winners or shortlist books read by the end of June, along with lots of others, and this seemed more manageable than many options. I’m glad to have picked it. It was a charming read, and it also left me with a little mystery to solve. In the novel, the protagonist mentions a man on a train who is holding a wild hare. The man and the hare are a preoccupation for her; she considers building a play around them. Having read The Year of the Hare not so long ago, I immediately made the association. I’m just not sure if the author did. I’ll let you know if I figure it out, and if she did intend the reference, what I make of it after some reflection. While I research and ponder (and desperately try to finish all my other April to June reading–prognosis not good), I will offer you my Goodreads review of the novel:
Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I think I have always understood the value of formulaic conversation and how it can make for real communication. Such exchanges can forge a link with someone when there is deep affection but no real common ground. Andrew, with his impatient intelligence, would never understand this. But I know Molly would agree with me. Her relationship with Fergus is built upon a similar visceral warmth, the childhood bond that has never been broken. Closeness of that particular type is perhaps only possible with people one has known all one’s life, when the bonds have been made before something in one’s soul has been closed down by consciousness, by knowledge; a kind of closeness that can coexist even with dislike. Perhaps this was something that Andrew could understand, perhaps this was why he was haunted by the thought of Billy, but I wasn’t sure that I could explain it to him.
This is one of the reflections on life, relationships, art, and human purpose that fill Molly Fox’s Birthday, a lovely novel from among the 2009 Orange Prize shortlist selections. I read it over a couple of days, and found myself eager to return to it, despite any real driving plot. The characters are insightfully drawn, and the language flows smoothly, creating beautiful images along the way. I am not a gardener, but I found myself wanting to plant some of the flowers Deirdre Madden described in passing. The story is the tale of a single day in the life of a playwright who is staying at a friend’s home while she is away, struggling to begin a new play in the wake of a recent flop. The tiny details of the day prompt reflections on a myriad of topics–the most powerful of which is the window friendship creates into another life, and the degree to which the window may be opaque–sometimes more than we know. The home is the home of the playwright’s best friend–Molly Fox, a brilliant actress but also a shy and complex character. The occasion of her birthday (on June 21st) prompts many of the reflections in the tale, and also provides a reason for several people to stop by–including Molly’s brother Fergus, another old mutual friend Andrew, who is now a successful art critic and media darling. The tale also draws indirectly on the tensions of Northern Ireland, from which both Andrew and the playwright come, he a Protestant, she a Catholic. Molly is from Dublin.
I recommend this quiet but beautiful novel for a break in a frenzied schedule sometime when you need it!