Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Review: The Whipping Club

The Whipping Club
by Deborah Henry
T.S. Poetry Press
306 pages
a copy of this book was provided by the publisher through TLC Book Tours

Deborah Henry's debut novel is a stunning page-turner. I immediately fell in love with this writer's voice and her fluid style. The Whipping Club is a story of shame and social stigma, and the cruel punishment meted out to unwed mothers and their children in 1950's Ireland.

Marian McKeever is in love. It is 1957, and she is a Catholic girl in love with a Jewish boy. On the night that she meets her lover's parents, Marian is keeping a secret that she longs to reveal. But Ben's mother doesn't accept her son's Catholic girlfriend, the night goes awry, and Marian never tells Ben that she is carrying his child. Instead she goes away to Castleboro Mother Baby Home and relinquishes her son--believing that he is to be adopted by an American family.

Ten years later, Marian and Ben are married; they have a daughter, Johanna, and a settled, happy life. True, Marian is distracted, sometimes distant. She has never told Ben about their son. A crisis occurs when a character known simply as Nurse appears on Marian's doorstep with unsettling news about the fate of Adrian Ellis, the son who was taken from Marian's arms ten years ago.

The Whipping Club is an absolutely gripping tale told by a gifted storyteller. I was holding my breath at times, feeling a sense of dread or dismay, fiercely involved with these characters. An abiding sense of familial love runs through this novel, and the characters are sympathetic and believable. There are villians here too--the orphanage and reform school are refuges for warped characters who wield their power to abuse, control and abase those in their charge. Adrian is a wholly believable boy--longing for love, drawn to troubled reenactments of his most shameful treatment. I feared for this somewhat Dickensian boy, rooting for his beating the odds. Marian and Ben are a couple bound by love but twisted by guilt and remorse, and the reader feels a deep sympathy for their pain. The Whipping Club was a highly satisfying read; I look forward to more from this author.

For more about Deborah Henry: http://www.deborahhenryauthor.com


stujallen said...

I think my wife like this I ve seen a film about this time the magdalan sisters set in fifties of course my gran and grand remembered the south of the fifties they spent time there even thou they are from the north ,all the best stu

Audra said...

This book looks sooo intense and sooo sad -- I'm not sure I could take it -- but your review has me super curious!

Lisa said...

I had this on my radar sometime back but had completely forgotten it. Thanks for the reminder - and it is now on the spreadsheet so it won't be forgotten again!

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

Wow, sounds like a really compelling read! Thanks for being on the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page.

Booksnyc said...

I definitely want to read it although it does sound very intense. It reminds me of a book I read years ago called The Magdalen Sisters.

Grad said...

When I was in college in Ireland, I became best friends with the girl who was the maid in the house where I lived with a Dublin family. After I left to return to America, she wrote to tell me she had become pregnant and her family disowned her. Happily, I knew a lot of people in the diplomatic corps, and a Marine Major and his wife who were living in Germany offered her a job as a nanny for their two kids. They were wonderful to her and would have helped her in every way, but she decided to put the baby up for adoption (a son, by the way). She later went on to marry an American, moved to the US and had a daughter, but she was always haunted by the son she gave up. I lost track of her. I've tried to find her on Facebook, but she has a very common name. This book will resonate with me, I'm sure, and I'll try to find it. Thanks for the great review.

bibliophiliac said...

@stu-I vaguely remember that there was a film about this kind of home for unwed mothers....anyway, it was a really compelling book, maybe your wife will give it a try?
@Audra-intense, yes. Not as sad as it might have been. A very moody book, but I really loved the writer's style.
@Lisa-yes, give this one a read!
@Heather-thanks, I loved this book.
@Booksnyc-I highly recommend!

bibliophiliac said...

@Grad=I can't imagine giving up a child. I would be haunted by it forever.

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

Adrian as a Dickensian character - oh yes, perfect comparison! I loved this one too :)