Can you ever really know someone? That's the question evoked by the novel MOLLY FOX'S BIRTHDAY. It is the latest from Irish writer, Deirdre Madden. This richly woven story is told from the point of view of an unnamed narrator, a young woman, a successful playwright, suffering a bout of writer's block. She is house-sitting for her long-time friend, Molly Fox, an equally successful actress, whose need for privacy shrouds her in layers of mystery.
The setting of the book is Ireland and the action takes place all on one day, the Summer Solstice (the longest day of the year), which is also Molly Fox's birthday. Over the course of the story, the narrator inhabits Molly's house and wanders the rooms therein, reliving decades of their friendship via flashbacks. In the process, she conjures scenes of Molly Fox that inspire feelings of love, admiration, jealousy and even resentment. But who really is Molly Fox? This gently paced, beautifully written novel is about how we shape our identities and relationships - the relationship we have to ourselves, our family and friends, our passions and most significantly, our artistic inclinations.
Through the narrative flashback arc, each character in this novel seems a misfit, shaped by some sense of loss and trauma in their families that has encouraged him/her to turn to the arts. The narrator comes from a big, Irish, baby-making clan. It is her brother, a solitary Catholic priest, who helps her understand and appreciate how being different and living an unconventional/introspective life can be an asset and not a liability--especially for a writer. Molly spends her life, off-stage, trying to escape the lasting wounds of a largely absent mother and caring for an emotionally troubled brother. But it is a seemingly secondary character, Andrew, a documentary filmmaker and an old friend of both the narrator and Molly--a man who lost his brother, the favorite son of his family, to the Irish rebel cause--who figures most predominantly into the denouement of this deeply moving story.
"Sometimes the most important and powerful element is an absence, a lack, a burnished space in your mind that glows and aches as you try to fill it," the narrator tell us.
The book seems to suggest that an artistic life--be it on the page, stage or screen--can be a bulwark against loneliness and feelings of emptiness. In the end, the losses and empty spaces in life, and how one responds to them on an emotional level, are what come to define these very authentic, three-dimensional characters. A thought-provoking read!