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Friendship by the Book: Molly Fox’s Birthday

Published: August 9, 2010 | Last Updated: February 17, 2023 By | 6 Replies Continue Reading

Deirdre Madden’s novel Molly Fox’s Birthday (Picador, 2010), is a beautifully written story that aptly conveys the complexity of a woman’s emotional bonds with her family and friends.

The story is focused on a single day in the life of an unnamed narrator, a playwright who is staying over at the Dublin home of her closest friend of 20 years, an actress named Molly Fox. The narrator is trying to work on her latest play but keeps getting distracted and winds up doing far more reminiscing and thinking than writing.

I was honored to conduct this interview via email with Deirdre, an acclaimed Irish novelist, to have her respond to some questions about the book, about writing, and about her own friendships. Molly Fox’s Birthday was a nominee for the prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction.


Why did you choose to tell your story within the confines of a single day in the life of the main character?


A book that was very much in my mind when I was writing Molly Fox’s Birthday was Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. I liked the balance between the past and the present, and it seemed like a good model, and a good way to arrange the material.

My writing tends to be quite introspective and is concerned with memory rather than being active and narrative-driven. Setting the novel over a single day allowed for these elements to find a suitable balance.


Why did you leave the main character unnamed?


I liked the idea of knowing a great deal about a character – pretty much her whole life story – and yet not knowing her name.

Usually, it’s the other way round: when you present or describe someone, the first thing you say is ‘This is…’ and you name her. So it was a way of holding something back, of signaling a bit of distance between the reader and the narrator.

On the same subject, when writing a novel, often you know that you’ve got to grips with a character when you’ve got a name for them that you know really suits.


Is the narrator’s flow of thoughts, procrastination, and writer’s block something you’ve experienced first-hand?


When you’re writing a novel, there are times, particularly at the start of the project, when I find, you need to be quite passive and vague. You need to be receptive, to daydream a bit, to follow stray thoughts that might or might not lead somewhere and become useful.

The trick is to know when to move on from that phase to a more focused and active mindset. If you don’t get it right, you do end up wasting time and procrastinating, stuck on something that’s going nowhere. I suspect that sooner or later, most writers go through something similar to the narrator’s creative problems in Molly Fox’s Birthday. You just keep going and you get through it.


Do you have many long-term friendships of your own (like that of the narrator and Molly Fox) and how have they weathered the years? Do you believe in such a thing as “friends for life?”


Yes, I have quite a few long-term friends, some of them very long-term indeed!

Everyone changes as the years pass, but in a true friendship, there’s something at the heart of it that either evolves with the changes or else overrides them so that they don’t matter.

Circumstances can change, but the thing that drew you to that person in the first place can stay constant. But like any important relationship, you can’t take a friendship for granted or neglect it. It merits attention and respect.


Why did you characterize Molly Fox as a friend-poacher? What are your thoughts about friend-poaching (taking someone else’s friend and making them your own)?


Although she is vulnerable in many ways, Molly Fox has a much stronger personality than her friend, the playwright who narrates the novel, and has a stronger will.

What one person sees as friend-poaching, another will see simply as mutual friendship. Much depends upon the nature of the friendship that is being encroached upon: often, the person about to become the wounded party won’t have fully understood or admitted to the real nature of a friendship until they feel it to be under threat. That’s certainly the case in the novel.


Do family relationships, in any sense, predetermine our friendships?


I’m very interested in relationships within families, most particularly siblings where one person is an artist – a painter, a writer, or an actor – and how that impinges upon their brothers and sisters.

Family and friends aren’t, of course, mutually exclusive, and I believe people who are happy and at ease in their families are more likely to be relaxed about making connections and friendships outside the family.

I suppose most of us take some kind of lead from our parents on how we conduct friendships without our even being conscious of it. Molly Fox’s Birthday is about family as well as about friendship.

Friendship by the Book is an occasional series of posts on The FriendshipBlog about books that offer friendship lessons. 

Molly Fox Birthday

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Comments (6)

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  1. Trading books with friends was one of the great pastimes of long summer days of childhood. And it still is, though the days are shorter and summer flies by. Thanks for sharing your “finds.”

  2. Men come and go, but friends are forever — sounds ideal but unfortunately, it’s not true. Just as we outgrow men or our interests change and we grow apart, the same thing happens with women friendships. We grow and go. Still, losing a friend is as hard as breaking up with a husband. There’s huge loss.

  3. Joan Oshatz says:

    I read the book “Life Lessons” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler many years ago. I cannot remember what lesson this fell under but it was about relationships.

    The lesson was that relationships are not meant to last forever — all relationships end, whether it is by a parting of the ways or by one person dying. And indeed, nothing really last forever but is only on loan to us. Some relationships can last a few minutes and be over, others can last weeks and months and then end — and still others can last for years.

    Somehow just knowing that each relationship or friendship that comes into my life is not a promise of forever, has made me more aware that all relationships and friendships have beginnings and ends.

    I found this to be of comfort in accepting the breakup of my marriage which spanned ten years of going with my husband before we married and then a twenty year marriage — a total of thirty years of my life.

    Understanding that all relationships and friendships have their own time frame has also helped me let go of friendships that I have had with some of my women friends. A very close woman friend, whom I had known for years — we ended up drifting apart when she moved to another city. Our lives just went in other directions and it was just the natural progression of how things worked out. No one was at fault.

    I think by accepting the fact that not all relationships and friendships are meant to last forever, makes the relationships and friendships that we do have in our lives more richer and meaningful.

    I do admit, this may be a hard lesson to learn — the letting go of a spouse or a particularly close friend — but these lessons are learned when we understand that it is natural to feel the loss of a person that we were once close to — but that we will survive, move on with our lives — and in some cases even thrive.

  4. Becky says:

    I am an avid reader and expect I would thoroughly enjoy reading this book.
    While I do believe in long-term friendships, I have also experienced that friends I thought were for life, and that had lasted 15+ years (I’m only 22), did run out, as interests and different experiences take you into different directions in life.

  5. Sheridan says:

    I was an only child, so I love to see how my sons are friends (most of the time!)

  6. Thank you for introducing me to Deirdre Madden. I enjoyed Mrs. Dalloway and the sense of time between past and present, so Molly Fox’s Birthday sounds intriguing. One of my best friends is someone I met through a writing competition, and even though I am now a visual artist, we are still connected by our creativity, and by our shared history.

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