Molly Fox's Birthday
by Deirdre Madden
It’s Midsummer Day in Dublin and our narrator wakes up in the home of her friend, Molly Fox. Molly is an actor “generally regarded as one of the finest of her generation” and has allowed her friend, a well-known playwright, to stay in her home while she is away in New York. Molly is an enigma, her home a shrine, “full of stylish bric-a-brac, unusual but inexpensive things that she has picked up on her travels” and in the hall pictures and trophies “a little museum to her own success”. We don’t know why Molly has gone to New York but we do know that today, 21st June, is her birthday - and Molly doesn’t celebrate her birthday.
The story unfolds over one stifling Dublin day (a tribute to Joyce’s Ulysses?) and is told in the form of reminiscences by the narrator. She muses about her friendship with Molly, their families, and notably, a mutual friend, Andrew. (Now a successful art historian and TV personality Andrew has re-invented himself from the working-class Belfast boy that he was, his life overshadowed by a dead brother - probably killed by the IRA). She mulls over past events and situations reflecting, that as a playwright, she knows everything about the characters she creates but relatively little about real friends, which is further complicated by the intense relationship between herself, Molly, and Andrew.
The plot may seem unlikely at times with coincidences and character appearances a bit theatrical, but, I believe, that’s exactly what the author intended. Deirdre Madden has very cleverly crafted a beautifully written novel, narrated by a playwright, taking place in the home of an actor, and has created what is essentially a stage set, in which (to paraphrase Shakespeare) “all the men and women are merely players”.