Friday, October 22, 2010

An Irish Houseguest

In Deirdre Madden's Molly Fox's Birthday all the action of the novel takes place in a single day, the twenty-first of June, the birthday of an Irish actress named Molly Fox. I had to look it up to be sure, but I was right – this same construct is used in “Mrs. Dalloway”. Remember Clarissa preparing for and hosting her party in a single day? Anyway, back to Molly. The unnamed narrator is a successful playwright who has known Molly for twenty years – her first play launched her career and Molly's as well – and she is staying in Molly's home in Dublin while the actress is in New York.

The house is full of objects that remind her of Molly, and she reminisces about their long friendship, which expanded to include the narrator's college friend Andrew, now a well-known art historian. As the day progresses scraps of information are revealed about the disparate childhoods of the three friends, and we see the various ways that each of them has created an identity in response to early circumstances. All three have brothers who have in very different ways shaped their adult lives.  As one memory triggers another, the playwright narrator examines friendship – how well do we know our friends? But the examination
is also about identity – how do we present ourselves to the world, and how close is that to our true selves?  Can a playwright or an actress know a fictional character better than she knows her friend?

This is not a book for those who enjoy a plot-driven novel – not a lot happens, and much of the story is presented somewhat obliquely in little snatches of memory. But I was left with a lovely picture of Molly's charming Dublin home, and an interesting meditation on the meaning and the mystery of friendship.

And yes, once again I've revealed my affection for Irish writers. But this time she's from Northern Ireland so that must mean I'm expanding my horizons.

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