Faber & Faber, £12.99. Order for £11.69 (free p&p) on 0870 079 8897
Molly Fox's Birthday, By Deirdre Madden
A novel of friendship and identity with an Irish accent
Monday 04 August 2008
Deirdre Madden's fiction is getting better and better. This seventh novel is, like its predecessor, Authenticity, shaped around an art form. With Authenticity, it was painting; this time it's acting. Molly Fox's profession is central to the theme of identity. The novel's three main characters are at odds with their background and upbringing, and each has managed to forge a more appropriate identity.
Two are Northern Irish, while Molly is a native of Dublin. The one most at ease with her family and childhood is the unnamed narrator, who (like the author) grew up as a Catholic in a rural part of the North, in a large and congenial family. She has, however, removed herself from its influence, first by studying at Trinity College in Dublin, then by making a name for herself as a playwright in London.
In the course of a midsummer's day, the playwright goes about her everyday activities in her friend Molly's house in Dublin, borrowed while the actor is working in New York. She meditates on their friendship, and on how an earlier friendship with a student at Trinity, Andrew Forde, has expanded to accommodate the three of them. Andrew is, in a sense, the narrator's opposite: a working-class Belfast Protestant whose paramilitary brother has been murdered in a loyalist feud. Andrew is not exactly the cuckoo, but the flamingo in the east Belfast nest. His glittering career as an art historian and TV presenter testifies to the strongest drive towards self-amendment, a whole new style of being.
Molly Fox's birthday – 21 June – coincides with a traumatic incident in her past. Her role is to facilitate an examination of the actor's role, and the role of acting in everyday life. A couple of emblems point up the theme: the fibreglass cow Molly keeps in her garden, either endearingly quirky or appallingly tasteless. The other is an image that haunts the narrator, and that she hopes will enable her to overcome writer's block: a man with a hare in his arms, glimpsed on a train in Munich. Is the hare a pet, or destined for the table? Is its stillness due to fright, or trust? These questions can only be resolved in the playwright's imagination.
What is striking about Molly Fox's Birthday is the faintly ironic decorum of its telling, its almost Aesop-like animal symbolism, and the scope of its implications. Deirdre Madden has written a novel of great astuteness and felicity.
TV reviewGrace Dent: Jimmy McGovern's new drama sheds light on sex slavery in the colonies
Eurovision 2015Australian Idol winner unveiled as representative Down Under
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Tourist films plane's descent just metres above packed Caribbean beach
- 2 Indian woman creates 'Marriage CV' after parents put her on dating site: 'Definitely not marriage material. Won’t grow long hair, ever'
- 3 World Book Day: Boy 'excluded' from school after dressing up as Fifty Shades' Christian Grey
- 4 Bad Jews poster 'censored' on London Tube
- 5 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
The 9 rules every Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoon had to follow are wonderfully pedantic
Toy Story 4: Pixar promises a romcom storyline 'separate' from the much-loved trilogy
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Bad Jews poster 'censored' on London Tube
World Book Day: Boy 'excluded' from school after dressing up as Fifty Shades' Christian Grey
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Elif Shafak: Turkish author warns against rise of British nationalism
Most people think legal tax avoidance is just as wrong as illegal tax evasion, poll suggests
Nigel Farage promises Ukip will not 'stigmatise' would-be migrants – and says he wants 'everyone to speak the same language'