Saturday, July 4, 2009

Molly Fox's Birthday

I share a book page on the Belfast Telegraph with talented author and artist Sharon Owens - check out her website: Today I'm reviewing Molly Fox's Birthday which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2009.

Deirdre Madden

In order to properly enjoy Molly Fox’s Birthday may I recommend you take a sneaky sick day from work? Phone in and claim to be bedridden, switch off your phone; make a nice cup of tea. And relax into this complex and absorbing story of a woman whose life has never moved forward since she was at university.
They say the friends you make at university are the friends you keep your whole life. Can this also be said of the lovers you take at university? Our nameless narrator is a Catholic girl from rural Northern Ireland. Her friend is Andrew, a Protestant boy from the mean streets of Belfast. They meet in the neutral territory of Trinity College Dublin in 1980s.
It was love at first sight for her – ‘I used to watch him studying in the library’.
The best we can get out of him - “I must tell (my father) some time that I’m good mates with someone whose brother’s a Catholic priest. That’ll be laugh.”
There’s nothing to laugh about though when his brother, Billy, a Loyalist Paramilitary, is murdered in an internal feud. Billy’s violent, untimely death shrouds the rest of Andrew’s life.
Molly Fox’s Birthday opens with great innocence. Our nameless narrator is now a well known playwright, she’s house sitting for her good friend, the actor Molly Fox. She can’t resist a bit of gentle boasting: ‘Molly Fox .... is generally regarded as one of the finest of her generation.’
That may well be the case, but in this story, Molly is cast in a supporting role.
Our narrator finds it impossible to admit she was, and still is, in love with Andrew. All through the story she makes disingenuous excuses for the fact she can’t stop thinking about him.
She tells us: ‘A hot day in the city always made me think of his last days in Dublin, now so many years ago.’
She’s incredibly proud of his academic and commercial achievements – he has become an art historian and a media personality. She gives us a meticulous description of his latest TV appearance – she repeats verbatim everything he says, she describes how he looks; she’s obsessed with him!
Today there’s a photograph of Andrew in the newspaper; he’s wearing eye catching cufflinks.
He’s answering a frivolous questionnaire – Reasons To Be Cheerful. One his reasons: The incomparable Molly Fox, our finest actress bar none.
Can it really be only coincidence that after reading this our narrator, who has not been mentioned as a ‘reason to be cheerful’, drops and destroys Molly’s beautiful irreplaceable milk jug which is the same colour as Andrew’s cuff links?
Andrew turns up unexpected on Molly’s doorstep with a bottle of champagne to help celebrate her birthday. Our narrator insists he open it and that they drink it together. He tells her he has finally managed to reconcile himself to the death of his brother – his new book and tie-in television show are dedicated to the memory of Billy.
All she can think about is the one night they spent together during ‘his last days in Dublin, now so many years ago’.
Deirdre Madden is originally from Toomebridge in County Antrim. She teaches in Trinity College, Dublin. She is uniquely positioned to study and observe university students in their natural habitat. And isn’t it reassuring for those of us who loved and lost when we were at university to learn that even now there are highly intelligent, ambitious young women studying in university libraries and attending university lectures while piteously pining after undeserving undergraduate men?

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