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Molly Fox's Birthday - Deirdre Madden I think I have always understood the value of formulaic conversation and how it can make for real communication. Such exchanges can forge a link with someone when there is deep affection but no real common ground. Andrew, with his impatient intelligence, would never understand this. But I know Molly would agree with me. Her relationship with Fergus is built upon a similar visceral warmth, the childhood bond that has never been broken. Closeness of that particular type is perhaps only possible with people one has known all one’s life, when the bonds have been made before something in one’s soul has been closed down by consciousness, by knowledge; a kind of closeness that can coexist even with dislike. Perhaps this was something that Andrew could understand, perhaps this was why he was haunted by the thought of Billy, but I wasn't sure that I could explain it to him.

This is one of the reflections on life, relationships, art, and human purpose that fill Molly Fox's Birthday, a lovely novel from among the 2008 Orange Prize shortlist selections. I read it over a couple of days, and found myself eager to return to it, despite any real driving plot. The characters are insightfully drawn, and the language flows smoothly, creating beautiful images along the way. I am not a gardener, but I found myself wanting to plant some of the flowers Deirdre Madden described in passing. The story is the tale of a single day in the life of a playwright who is staying at a friend's home while she is away, struggling to begin a new play in the wake of a recent flop. The tiny details of the day prompt reflections on a myriad of topics--the most powerful of which is the window friendship creates into another life, and the degree to which the window may be opaque--sometimes more than we know. The home is the home of the playwright's best friend--Molly Fox, a brilliant actress but also a shy and complex character. The occasion of her birthday prompts many of the reflections in the tale, and also provides a reason for several people to stop by--including Molly's brother Fergus, another old mutual friend Andrew, who is now a successful art critic and media darling. The tale also draws indirectly on the tensions of Northern Ireland, from which both Andrew and the playwright come, he a Protestant, she a Catholic. Molly is from Dublin.

I recommend this quiet but beautiful novel for a break in a frenzied schedule sometime when you need it!