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Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Whipping Club by Deborah Henry - BOOK REVIEW

The Whipping Club by Deborah Henry
Title:  The Whipping Club
Author:  Deborah Henry
Publisher:   T. S. Poetry Press
Release Date:  February 15, 2012
Hardcover, 345 pages
ISBN 13:  9780984553174
The Book Depository / Amazon

Goodreads description:

Inspired by her heritage and research of the Irish Industrial School system, Henry’s auspicious debut chronicles a couple’s attempt to save their son from horrific institutions.

Marian McKeever and Ben Ellis are not typical young lovers in 1957 Dublin, Ireland; she’s Catholic and teaches at Zion School, and he’s Jewish and a budding journalist. The two plan to wed, but their families object to an interfaith marriage. And when Marian becomes pregnant, she doesn’t tell Ben. Coerced by Father Brennan (a Catholic priest who is also her uncle), Marian goes to Castleboro Mother Baby Home, an institution ruled by Sister Paulinas and Sister Agnes where “sins are purged” via abuse; i.e., pregnant girls are forced to mow the lawn by pulling grass on their hands and knees. Marian is told that her son, Adrian, will be adopted by an American family. The riveting storyline provides many surprises as it fast-forwards to 1967 where Marian and Ben are married and have a 10-year-old daughter. Marian’s painful secret emerges when she learns that her son was dumped in an abusive orphanage not far from her middle-class home and Sister Agnes is his legal guardian. Thus begins a labyrinthine journey through red tape as the couple fight to regain their firstborn child. Ultimately, 12-year-old Adrian is placed in the Surtane Industrial School for Boys, which is rife with brutality and sexual abuse at the hands of “Christian Brother Ryder.” Though unchecked church power abounds, this is not a religious stereotype or an indictment of faith. Hateful characters like Brother Ryder are balanced with compassionate ones, such as a timid nurse from the Mother Baby Home. Father Brennan deepens into a three-dimensional character who struggles to do what is right. Henry weaves multilayered themes of prejudice, corruption and redemption with an authentic voice and swift, seamless dialogue. Her prose is engaging, and light poetic touches add immediacy. For example, when Marian returned to Mother Baby Home after 11 years, she “opened the car door and stepped onto the gravel, wanting to quiet its crunch, like skeletons underneath her shoes.” Echoing the painful lessons of the Jewish Holocaust, Henry’s tale reveals what happens when good people remain silent.

A powerful saga of love and survival.

My Take: 

This is a tale of the injustices wrought by the Irish Industrial Schools and orphanages in the 1950's and 1960's.

Marian, a teacher at a Jewish school, is Irish Catholic and her boyfriend Ben is Jewish.  Shortly before meeting Ben's parents, Mariam finds out that she is pregnant. After a totally disastrous meeting, Marian decides to go to a Mother Baby Home to have her child, who, she is told,  is subsequently given up and adopted by an American family.

Years later, after Ben and Marian have married and become parents to a daughter named Johanna, a nurse from the home visits Marian to tell her that the son she had given up, Adrian, is NOT in America, but is at an orphanage where he is being mistreated.

This novel follows Mariam as she tries to regain custody of Adrian.  It speaks of horrific abuse at the hands of the system, a mother's heartache in having failed her son, and the bias and prejudice that contributes to what is already an unbearable situation.

My feelings:  The novel feels a bit rushed and jumpy at the start, and reads more intellectually than emotionally - the writing is rather detached, and, as a reader, I was not able to connect with any of the characters.  I felt as though I were a dispassionate observer almost through the very end of the novel. If this were a non-fiction title, that would be acceptable; however, as fiction, most readers expect some feeling to come from the pages, especially around the issues that this novel centers around.

Marian imagines prejudice where none exists, and seems very close-minded and selfish.  Her husband Ben rightly believes that there is something a bit "off" about Adrian (and that is understandable, given how he has been raised up to this point).   Adrian is a bit more of a puzzle; I felt more for him, imagining how much worse his life must have felt once he got a true taste of family.

I feel that this novel is a good start towards shining a light on a system which few were aware of, but it could and should have been so much more.

QUOTES (from an eGalley; may be different in final copy):

The girl closed the door behind them and invited Marian to sit down while she herself remained standing, hovering by the door. It was then that Marian realized that the nurse wasn't there for comfort, but to keep her from running.

Sister Agnes told them that it costs to raise the spawn of whores and that orphans had nothing to add to what the state provided for their upkeep.

Writing:  4 out of 5 stars
Plot:  3.5 out of 5 stars
Characters:  2 out of 5 stars
Reading Immersion:   2 out 5 stars

BOOK RATING:   2.9 out of 5 stars

BLOGGERS:  Have you reviewed this book? If so, please feel free to leave a link to your review in the comments section; I will also add your link to the body of my review.

Author page

BUY IT:  At Amazon, The Book Depository,   and through other on-and-off-line booksellers.

Disclosure:  I  received a  complimentary eGalley of this title from the publisher through Net Galley to facilitate my review.  No other compensation was received and I was not required to post a positive review.


  1. Hm, not sure this is a book I'd rush to pick up.
    I appreciate your rating system!

  2. I was very tempted by this title on NetGalley, it's a shame you didn't find it more enjoyable

    Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out


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