Madden, Deirdre 1960-

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MADDEN, Deirdre 1960-


Born August 20, 1960, in Belfast, Northern Ireland; married Harry Clifton (a poet), 1987. Education: Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland), B.A. (with honors), 1983; University of East Anglia, M.A. (with distinction), 1985.


Home—Toomebridge, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Agent—A. P. Watt Ltd., 20 John St., London WC1N 2DR, England.


Writer. Atelierhaus Worpswede Germany, fellow, 1993-94; National University of Ireland—University College, Cork, writer in residence, 1994-95; Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, writing fellow, 1996-97. Gives readings from her works.




Hennessy Literary Award for short fiction, c. 1980; Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, 1987; grants from Arts Council of Northern Ireland, 1987, 1991; Somerset Maugham Award, Society of Authors, 1989, additional award, 1992; Hawwthornden fellow, 1993; Kerry Ingredients Book of the Year Award, 1997.


Hidden Symptoms (novel), Atlantic Monthly Press (Boston, MA), 1987.

The Birds of the Innocent Wood (novel), Faber & Faber (London, England), 1988.

Remembering Light and Stone (novel), Faber & Faber (London, England), 1992.

Nothing Is Black (novel), Faber & Faber (London, England), 1994.

One by One in the Darkness (novel), Faber & Faber (London, England), 1996.

Authenticity, Faber & Faber (London, England), 2002.

Work also represented in anthologies, including First Fictions: Introduction 9, Faber (London, England), 1986.


Deirdre Madden's first book, Hidden Symptoms, was published when she was still in her twenties. Many reviewers commented on the young author's polished prose and powerful story. Hidden Symptoms, set in Belfast in 1969, explores the consequences of familial and national loyalties and animosities. There are three central characters: Theresa, a university student who is embittered by the death of her twin brother at the hands of Protestant terrorists; Kathy, Theresa's best friend; and Robert, Kathy's lover, a journalist who rejects both politics and religion. All three have needs that are hidden behind carefully constructed facades. Laurel Graeber wrote in the New York Times Book Review that the connections between the protagonists sometimes seems "contrived," but she went on to say that "Ms. Madden writes movingly and often lyrically of the differences that lead these three to wound one another." She concluded that the novel possesses a "sorrowful impact." A writer for Kirkus Reviews voiced some reservations about the book, stating that "it flirts with the maudlin, takes some embarrassing shortcuts, and ends with a top-heavy dialogue on Catholicism"; but, the writer concluded, the novel is for the most part "effective… with the thematic ambitiousness of Joyce (there are allusions throughout); the eye for atmosphere and mood of the early Brian Moore; and, not least, with the fetching creation of the intelligent, uncompromisingly passionate Theresa.…Well above average, at moments exceptional." A Publishers Weekly reviewer expressed unreserved enthusiasm, calling Hidden Symptoms a "powerful" book, and concluding: "The beaten-down feelings of young Irish intellectuals whose faith is sorely tested, or lost completely, are eloquently voiced here."

Despite its overtones of fable, Madden's next novel, The Birds of the Innocent Wood, was praised by London Review of Books contributor John Lanchester for keeping the emotional framework of the story realistic and believable. It is a "dark, stoical and unyieldingly somber story" of a family's bleak life on an Irish farm. The reviewer found Madden's control and purpose "remarkable," but went on to say that "this very control is also the novel's difficulty. There is no humour in it.…The universe of the book has a predetermined quality to it, and its characters, because they can appear ciphers of the author's purpose, don't always engage the reader's emotion."

Madden's precise control is also mentioned by Andrea Ashworth in a Times Literary Supplement discussion of Nothing Is Black. "Madden's sentences are carefully composed and executed to produce simple, sometimes starkly poetic prose," wrote Ashworth. "But the dialogue, although never monotonous, can be monochromatic. In framed discussions, her characters stop doing and start discoursing.…At such points, Madden's art is too abstract, obscuring the appeal of her most concrete and colourful scenes."

By the arrival of her fifth novel, One by One in the Darkness, Madden's voice was well-defined. Patricia Craig described it in Times Literary Supplement as "a lucid voice, but one that admits no note of bravado or gaiety. It creates a thinly populated world in which everyone is more or less fraught and unfulfilled. Bereavement, suffering, guilt and blame are Madden's subjects, and her books are overloaded with the miseries of life." In One by One in the Darkness, these miseries take the form of a terrorist killing and its aftermath. Craig noted that, aside from the murder, "very little happens." She concluded, however, that "What saves [Madden] as a writer, and makes her novels likeable, despite their refusal of qualities such as charm, high spirits, robustness and aplomb, is a formidable descriptive gift which is harnessed to the small-scale and quotidian."



Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1986, review of Hidden Symptoms, p. 1680.

Library Journal, February 15, 1987, p. 161.

Listener, January 28, 1988, p. 25.

London Review of Books, February 4, 1988, John Lanchester, review of The Birds of the Innocent Wood, p. 17.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 24, 1989, p. 14.

New York Times Book Review, February 15, 1987, Laurel Graeben, review of Hidden Symptoms, p. 20.

Observer, January 31, 1988, p. 27; July 3, 1994, p. 24; July 17, 1994, p. 15; October 6, 2002, Justine Ettler, review of Authenticity.

Publishers Weekly, November 28, 1986, review of Hidden Symptoms, p. 66.

Punch, February 5, 1988, p. 45.

Times Literary Supplement, February 5, 1988, p. 133; October 2, 1992, p. 22; July 8, 1994, Andrea Ashworth, review of Nothing Is Black, p. 20; May 24, 1996, Patricia Craig, review of One by One in the Darkness, p. 26; August 16, 2002, Emma Tristram, review of Authenticity, p. 20.

Washington Post, January 14, 1987.

World Literature Today, summer, 1999, Jerry White, "Europe, Ireland, and Deirdre Madden," p. 451.


Irish Eyes, (October, 2002), Jean O'Sullivan, "Paris Is a Great Place to Work" (interview).*