Hardcover: 232 pages
Faber and Faber (Aug 26, 2008)
Orange Prize shortlist 2009
From the back of the book:
"Exploring family, friendship, and love, Molly Fox's Birthday is above all a novel about identity, calling into question the ideas that we hold about who we are; and showing how the past informs the present in ways we might never have imagined."
An unnamed playwright narrates the story over the period of one long day, summer solstice as it happens, June 21. It also happens to be her friend Molly's birthday. The writer is using Molly's home in Dublin while Molly, a well known actress "with a velvet voice", takes a holiday in the playwright's home in New York. It's a story about knowing and not knowing the people we trust and call friends, lifelong friends. It's well done and shows how one small remark can throw sudden light on everything we know about someone and make things fall into place about their personalities, or quirks and preferences. We all come to realize in our lives that family members are often unknowable while we're young and even difficult to know well when we age and begin to lose them. Then we often have as family those we've chosen to be around us as friends. But Deirde Madden is here to shows us that the relationship we have with even close friends can be based on a few small bits of information only.
Molly hates her mother but is it really warranted? And she has a strong aversion to any reference to her own birthday, and it's not about her age, it's about something so deep she won't talk about it. We often accept our friends fears and eccentricities, often accomodating them without knowing what the cause is. After some years Molly does tell her friend the playwright why she feels that way but she allows no discussion of the subject, not even from her own brother, who feels quite differently. All the information we have about a friend is what they've told us. While they don't usually deceive us deliberately, they leave a lot out because well, it hurts. Things come out in bits over time. The question is obliquely raised too What do I really mean to this person? If I'm their best, longest, oldest etc. friend, why are there parts of themselves they haven't shared with me. For as our narrator says, they are always things we hold back.
Our playwright had planned to write all day and just when ideas start to form, she's had to deal with another person who's stopped by to ask about Molly. She meets people who she is surprised to find are part of Molly's life but not part of her own and she learns a few things about her friend. She has this lovely day of long summer light to sit and think too. An easy read and a quiet story but good and very thought-provoking. Four stars out of five.
From the London Observer about Madden's writing in general:
"Madden's achievement is to make partial revelations about obscure lives as gripping as a thriller. Her style is passionate, emotional, but never obvious and does not admit a single cliché or badly written sentence."
Deirdre Madden's novels include The Birds of Innocent Wood, for which she was awarded the Somerset Maugham Prize; Remembering Light and Stone, Nothing is Black, One By One in the Darkness, which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, and Authenticity. She lives in Paris.
Orange Prize 2009
Molly Fox's Birthday is the third of the six novels shortlisted for the 2009 Orange Prize that I have read. I regularly find very enjoyable books among the nominees, including those on the longlists. And while I don't always favour the actual winner, this year I was pleased with their choice of Home by Marilynne Robinson.
Home***** by Marilynne Robinson (winner)
The Invention of Everything Else**** by Samantha Hunt
Molly Fox’s Birthday**** by Deirdre Madden
The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey (currently reading)
Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie (tbr)
Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman
A Mercy****+ by Toni Morrison
The Lost Dog**** by Michelle de Kretser
The Household Guide for Dying by Debra Adelaide (tbr)
Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold
Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans
Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo
Strange Music by Laura Fish
Love Marriage by V.V. Ganeshananthan
Intuition by Allegra Goodman
The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight by Gina Ochsner
Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan (may read)
American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews (may read)
The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber
Orange Prize Reading Project
Which have you read and can you recommend them? Any plans to read titles from either list? Would you rather have seen another book take the prize? Have you read any other books by Deirdre Madden?
Feel free to leave links to any you've reviewed, I'd love to read them.
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