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Molly Fox's Birthday - Deirdre Madden

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Genre: Fiction / Author: Deirdre Madden / Paperback / 240 Pages / Book is published 2008-07-31 by Faber and Faber

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    2 Reviews
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      15.06.2010 17:41
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      Disappointing

      ==Synopsis of the book:==

      It is celebrated author Molly Fox's Birthday and the lady is working on a play in New York. While she is there she has loaned her house in Dublin to her friend who is trying to work on her new play. The playwright who has know Molly and been friends with her for many years starts to reminisce about not only their friendship but also key events in her life.

      Not only that the playwright also considers her old University friend Andrew and how they have shared key events since then in eachothers lives. Now years later she considers how she has introduced key people in her life to Molly yet Molly has always kept her friends and family separate from her and their friendship.

      ==My thoughts on this novel:==

      My overall opinion of this piece of fiction was it was disappointing and quite a frustrating story. This is in complete contrast to the general consensus of opinion but many qualified critics who short-listed this very book for the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2009. And while I am not about to change my viewpoint on this I can at least appreciate some of the finer point of the book.

      This is my first experience of Deirdre Madden's work and at the time of writing this is her latest author, although it is her ninth novel in total. In my defence it often takes me a while to grow to appreciate and like new authors works as I find their style takes a while for me to really get into, understand and feel at home with.

      My main reason for not enjoying this story was because I did not feel it was ever going anywhere. I expected things to happen that would captivate my interest but they never happened. Instead we had a playwright talking about her relationship with Molly and key events that they had either shared or Molly had told her about. And while this was a usual approach for me it really didn't work, I expected amazing revelations and it was mundane for me.

      I think part of the reason for this was I had not had seen this approach before, the looking back and reminiscing on the key events in peoples relationships. It was in truth probably a little too deep and sensitive look at friendships for me. But I think that is exactly what the author was trying to demonstrate so part of this was wasted on me, as I tend to prefer the more action packed crime thrillers.

      I was given this book by a friend at work who was keen to here my opinion of it knowing I read a lot of books. I think I disappointed her with my views. Although I did explain I thought it was excellently written and I did still enjoy the learning about Molly Fox and how her past shaped the person she was now. I found it interesting the way the author carefully shared snippets of information so that by the end of the story I felt I knew and understood her completely. I found I was thinking a lot about what I was being told and even considered how these interacted in my life and how I would react to them.

      With a title like this I was stupidly thinking that it would be a story about a surprise party or some unusual celebration of it. But instead the reader learnt to understand why Molly chooses not to celebrate her Birthday despite those around her wanting to.

      On the positive side I was very impressed with the characters the author created. I liked the way they interacted with eachother and the depth the author used in explaining their lives, loves and feelings towards not only one another but key dates within their lives. I always felt there was real meaning in what the characters were doing and the way it was portrayed so that they always acted within their character but also gave you a real understanding of why they acted or felt as they did. From this perspective I could see this novel being studied by schoolchildren as there was quite often different ways of interpreting and understanding what you were being told and as far as I was concerned often a meaning in what you were being told that wasn't obvious and needed thinking about.

      I did enjoy the changing relationships between the three main characters. As it covered a period of 20 years when these characters where at University, with all the hopes and dreams they had to approaching there 40's. The story dealt in detail about these characters relationships with their families and their feelings about them. What were really interesting for me were the contrasting views, which the author really explained well and demonstrated superbly the emotions they shared.

      For me the story was quite a gentle pace and I kept expecting something to captivate me in the story but that never happened. Instead I just learnt more about all the characters lives. Although I did find the ending certainly as good as I could have helped for given this. I just expected a light to suddenly come on within me and for me to feel I had read something very special but it never happened.

      Despite having said what I had about the book, I do think the author picked exactly the right time to conclude the story. It was only 240 pages long but what surprised and frustrated me there were no chapters so it was difficult to leave the book and remember exactly where you were.

      ==Conclusion:==

      Despite all the hype about this book, I found it a disappointing story. I expected more action, more intrigue and more excitement but never got it. Instead I had a deep, sometimes thought provoking read dealing with friendship and factors that influenced their lives. I must try another book from this author, as I am keen to learn more about her style of writing, as that was very different for me than what I am used to.

      ==Other Information:==

      Pages: 240
      Price: £4.76 New at Amazon
      Publisher: Faber and Faber
      ISBN-10: 0571239668
      ISBN-13: 978-0571239665
      Year: 2008

      Thank you for reading my review.

      This review is published on both Ciao and Dooyoo under my user name.

      © CPTDANIELS June 2010

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      • More +
        06.06.2009 10:10
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        ** Synopsis...


        During the summer whilst the successful actor Molly Fox is on holiday in New York, she loans her Dublin home to her playwright friend (and narrator) so that she might start writing her new play. It is the longest day of the year as well as it being her friend Molly's birthday, and the playwright is finding it increasingly difficult to find her inspiration and instead turns her attention to her own life, reflecting on her past and her relationship with Molly and their mutual friend Andrew.

        Several questions are addressed throughout the novel through the playwrights (who is never named) reflections; how have her relationships with her friends developed over the years? What is the distinction between a good actor and a great one? And why does Molly Fox never celebrate her birthday?


        ** My Thoughts...

        What a strange little book this is. I have actually been really looking forward to reading this, as the reviews I have read have been exceptional. From The Independent: "Deirdre Madden has written a novel of great astuteness and felicity." Monday 4th August, 2008.


        There is no doubting that this is a very clever writer and a very clever novel indeed. In a nutshell, this book looks at identity (mainly of the three characters of the narrator, Andrew and Molly) religion and art. The setting of the book remains on one day where the playwright narrator is contemplating writing her own book but the event of Molly's birthday has brought her to examine - firstly at least - her relationships with Andrew and Molly.

        During most of the book, there are flash-backs to the times when she met them (Andrew during college in Dublin and Molly when she starred in her first successful play). Probably the most interesting aspect of this book is discovering more about the elusive Molly Fox more than anything; as although we are in the present with the narrator and Andrew also appears in the present, Molly is only shown to the reader in flashbacks and a phone call at the end of the book.

        Throughout the book, the narrator reveals certain stories about her past encounters with Molly and it is slowly revealed how her quirky nature has come about. In doing so, we also learn about the narrators nature as well as Andrews. All of the characters have grown into interesting people within their field of expertise and excelled, and it was equally fascinating to see how and why they developed into the people they are - the narrator takes us back to their childhood through stories her two friends have told her. I did find some of the flashback stories really interesting; the scene was set perfectly, the author knew exactly how to draw me in, and there was always a kind of conclusion that would explain a relationship or summarize the narrators feelings at the time.

        However, this storytelling success didn't happen as often as I had hoped, which brings me on to the negatives. To say that I was disappointed with the book overall would be a massive undertstatment. I know that Deirdre Madden is a celebrated author and I fully expected this to be a very intelligent and literary book - but I found this was just too subtle and clever for me. I had hoped during the beginning of the book that something momentous would happen; that there would be some kind of climax, but I found that it literally is a subtle book examining relationships and art as mentioned above.


        I mentioned that I enjoyed the story-telling flashbacks - well as I said, the most interesting ones were few and far between. Not only did I feel that some sections and stories dragged on with no real purpose, but some of the stories just bored me to tears. At one point, there is what must be 6-7 pages where the narrator is watching her art-historian friend Andrew who is presenting a programme. She literally goes into detail about everything he is explaining (don't ask me what, I have no idea, my eyes glazed over) which summarises my point perfectly: this was far too clever and "arty" for me.

        Although this book is a short one at 240 pages, I felt that I was bombarded from beginning to end with all these clever little anecdotes which were meant to mean something as there were no chapters! I do see how this clearly served a purpose in showing the longest day as well as the narrators stream of consious thought, I desperately wanted some kind of break to signal - well I'm not sure really - I just desperately needed a break! I guess that was more a personal thing, I like books which have chapters, long or short - to signal an end to a particular train of thought or event maybe. The fact that this lacked even one chapter just added to my dislike of it overall.


        There are lots of insightful reviews from clever newspaper people I've read (as well as not being able to see one bad review of this from us ordinary folk - one of the reasons I picked this up in the first place) that talk about Molly's house and all it's symbollism - how her house is a stage and a representation of her and bla bla. I'm afraid I just wouldn't be able to back this up, as I didn't glean anything from reading this. I would have liked to have learnt more about Andrews brother who had died during the conflict in Belfast, but other than that I just needed this book to be less subtle and have more impact on me! Althought the narrator had some interesting stories to tell, I didn't feel compelled or annoyed that we never knew her name, and I felt that I never connected to any of the characters in a way which I felt I should in a book which is a tale of emotions such as this.

        I can acknowledge the book for what it so clearly has done well however; subtly and cleverly explained the evolving relationships between the three main characters. I will fully admit that it is my personal taste that I found this dull and hard to engage with; it is purely my stubbornness and the fact that it was so short that I didn't give up half way through when I realised I was thinking of other things whilst reading the same sentence over and over! I think perhaps Madden's style of writing is just beyond me; I certainly won't be making the same mistake again and buying another of hers. As for the would you recommend this to a friend box here; I deliberated long and hard over this. I have friends who would thoroughly enjoy this and see it for what it is - they would probably call it a masterpiece.
        For the everyday person who just wants a really good story to get to grips with as well as something that is extremely well written then this isn't one I would recommend.

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