Sunday, September 26, 2010

Molly Fox's Birthday, Deirdre Madden

BEST OF 2010

Over the past few years I have grown to realize how much I really love Irish novelists. There is a gritty, day to day truth throughout their fiction. Much like plays, the Irish novels I have read, speak in a manner not common to most. There is a digging inwards to their questions. There is a confession to their stories. I would compare Madden's writing to Banville's (The Sea), Enright's (The Gathering), Barry's (The Secret Scripture), and McCann's (Let the Great World Spin). All of these authors, and mentioned novels, have been sitting high atop my list of favorite novels in recent years.

In Molly Fox's Birthday, Madden is doing what many of the above mentioned writers did with their novels. The novel takes place over the course of a single day. And, Madden is studying the significance of ourselves in the lives of others. Of the past as significant in our present and future. One single day is never simple. We are constantly tied to those pieces of our past. To those lives we've lived and those people we've lived beside. This is a novel about what we become.

The narrator is a playwright. She is staying a few days at the home of a good friend, the great stage actor, Molly Fox. Ms. Fox is abroad so the narrator is left alone to work on her most recent play. She is surrounded by the awards, photos, and memories of Ms. Fox's home. The objects one keeps as reminders of who they have been and where they have been. There is so much personality of Ms. Fox brought into the novel based solely on the objects of the home and the home itself.

Madden does a marvelous job of creating history. These characters are not flat, single suggestions. These are fleshed out ideas. These people represent a larger world. Much of the novel's focus is on the role of art in our world and the role of art in an actor's life. A great deal of meditation on what it means to act and to be a great actor. But, this novel should not only interest those who have been on the stage. This is a novel for those who understand the role of portraying oneself and someone else. What price do we pay if we pay any price at all?

What Madden is most successful at within Molly Fox's Birthday is that the novel never becomes too dark. Many of the Irish writers mentioned have some very dark pieces of literature (ie The Gathering). Madden falls into the darkness from time to time. But, the narrator recognizes life as a series of up and down. Recognizes there are ways out just as there are ways in.

The plot is simple. But, it never slows. The prose is beautiful. A precise and detailed manner. An ordered history of lives disordered. This is the novel of our every day. A guide to recognizing the roles we play for all we hold close.


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