Where will the bounty end? Great Orange 2009 reads and doing my best to make sure you can share in the good books too so three copies of this one to lucky winners and just to let you know there might be a delay in arrival because this one's being reprinted.
I'm not sure quite how long I've had Molly Fox's Birthday sitting on the shelf and nor to my chagrin had I heard of Deirdre Madden who Anne Enright classes as
'one of our finest writers'
and Sebastian Barry suggests is
'equipped with an almost celestial compassion, the constant genius of Irish letters'.
Wow, if Sebastian Barry wrote that about me I'd have it framed and hanging on the wall in a flash, because you already know that I think if Sebastian wrote a shopping list it would probably move me to tears.
Then Frank McGuiness who sounds more Irish than anyone also weighs in with more poetically right words in the right order about Deirdre, and I'm thinking we only need Michael Flatley and the Taoiseach (don't worry, I had to look up the spelling too) and this will all be a done deal, a ready-made Irish fan club there.
But am I right or not, Deirdre Madden much less well known on this side of the Irish Sea?
I'm sure you'll tell me because I do like to think I try and keep up with these things and I feel negligent to have missed such a good writer for so long.
So it was the Orange longlist that sent me penitentially to the 'Waiting To Be Read Soon' shelf for this book and do we like that cover?
Oh yes indeed we do.
It is Dublin, Midsummer's Day, the longest day and the birthday that Molly Fox never celebrates. On this occasion Molly is in New York and has loaned her house to a playwright friend who is struggling with her latest play. The pair met over a very succesful play that made both their names and, whilst Molly has established herself as an actor of repute and great skill, things haven't gone so smoothly for the hapless playwright. Molly has refined and captured the alchemy of the stage, perfected and distilled the process into triumph after triumph, her recent Duchess of Malfi and the delivery of that seemingly simple line
'Look you, the stars shine still'
epitomising Molly's consummate stage skill.
Meanwhile the unnamed friend has struggled since that early fame with productions that have bombed in rapid succession.
'I spent the morning wool-gathering, staring out of the window into
the back garden, reading over my notebooks, writing things down and
then crossing them out again moments later...'
Whilst Molly transforms the final garment on stage it is the writer who is busy weaving behind the scenes and in the end I came to no firm conclusion about who had the hardest task.
But for all this Molly is an actor and with that comes the ambiguity of identity, that front of stage versus behind-the-scenes nature of the profession and at this point I can recommend some recent and very relevant posts from KevinFromCanada on the whole subject of dramatic production. While you're there don't miss his Guess-the-Pulitzer competition with a $75 dollars-worth of book buying prize.
I also found this perceptive biographical extract about Deirdre Madden very enlightning now that I have read Molly Fox's Birthday
'Madden in her novels examines the state of individual consciousness in the fragmented and confusing late-twentieth-century world. Her interest in how individuals discern their place in the world leads her to examine institutions that affect people's lives: religion, geography, politics (particularly in Northern Ireland), violence, and women's rights. All of her novels rely heavily on conversation; in the tradition of Elizabeth Bowen's fiction, Madden's work uses in-depth conversations to advance characters' understanding of themselves and each other while developing her themes for the reader.'
That's exactly what I would have said if I'd thought of it first, because whilst the narrator remains anonymous it is through her focalised thoughts and conversations with others that we learn all we ever know about the enigmatic Molly Fox. By never actually meeting Molly face to face she remains a mass of contradictions and unpredictability and Deirdre Madden's character portrayals gave me so much to think about as I read.
I don't for one minute think I have unearthed all there is to find with a single read of Molly Fox's Birthday, this is an intricate warp and weft of multiple layers and threads here and a second read would doubtless unravel more. Especially when I look at that cover again and know I am being deflected by the third person, secretive and enigmatic Molly in particular who wants me to look outward from her house, when actually what's interesting is that within.
Another worthy Orange longlister and my thanks to the judges because I might just have missed this one and I'm delighted to have both read it and discovered Deirdre Madden.
Don't forget names in comments and Rocky Flatley is lacing on the tap shoes and preparing to do his feline version of Riverdance to help choose this one, weeks and weeks of diligent resting practice, you should just see those legs go.