Shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2009, Molly Fox’s Birthday focuses on a single day in the life of the unnamed narrator, which happens to coincide with the birthday of her dear friend, Molly Fox. Despite the title, the book does not focus on Molly Fox or even solely on the impact Molly Fox has had on her friend’s life. Rather, it focuses on the influence the narrator’s older brother and priest, Tom; boyfriends; family; college friend, Andrew Forde; Andrew’s family; Molly’s “crazy” brother, Fergus; Molly’s abandoning mother; and, of course, Molly have the who the narrator has become. Essentially, the back-story is the story.
Madden has definitely mastered the English language as the story is undoubtedly simple, yet filled with unsaid and unanswered questions that seep beneath your skin and beg to be pondered and answered. Are the masks we wear just a fragment of us acting? Are they the people we have to be around others? Or are they the people we really want to be?
That said, there are transitions — in this case, not a word but a picture, a flower, a glass, a location — that are utterly chunky and fail to do their job of moving the reader from the present to the past. I can remember several occasions where there was no bridge between the present and past, and I felt like I had just been catapulted from one time to another with no reason or clarity. It destroyed the flow of the narrative, and caused me to question my unnamed narrator.
I also would have liked to be a little more privy to Andrew and Fergus’ lives and thoughts because I found both of them to be fascinating characters, or given more understanding on the relationship between Tom and Molly. The narrator has a tendency to sell herself short, and unfortunately, that translated to my feelings on her as well.
- Madden, Deirdre. Molly Fox’s Birthday. London: Faber and Faber, 2008. Print. 221 pgs. ISBN: 9780571239658. Source: Gift.