Monday, September 17, 2012

The Whipping Club, Deborah Henry (4.5 stars)

About The Whipping Club

• Paperback: 312 pages
• Publisher: T.S. Poetry Press (February 2, 2012)

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.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)


Young and in love, Marian believes Ben can handle the life changing news she plans to share with him. But after an evening of misunderstandings and misguided advice, Marian makes a decision that leaves part of her empty and searching. She gives up her baby.

Fast forward years later, Marian and Ben are married and have a daughter, Johanna. The past comes back in the form of a nurse who befriended Marian during the time she gave up her son. She has news, the boy was not adopted by a lovely American family as Marian had been told. Instead, he is suffering at an orphanage nearby.

Marian and Ben relive the past and finally break down the silence that has buried them for years. They decide to fight for their son, Adrian. It's an uphill battle, a journey through pain, loss, cruelty, lies, and stolen youth.

In a stunning debut, Deborah Henry crafts an emotional tale with characters that reach out from the page. Marian's insecurity and feelings of guilt played on me as much as Ben's confusion and uncertainty and Johanna's desire to be loved and noticed. But nothing pulled on my heartstrings as much as Adrian's tale. He's such a damaged young man, yet he's blessed with an inner strength to survive more than he ever should have had to. Adrian broke my heart with one simple line, one that cut to the core of his pain, "I suppose my crime was being born."

If you are looking for a nice family saga with a happy ending, you won't find it here. But you will find a raw honesty about family struggles and love working its way through the darkest pit. You might want to have some Kleenex close by and find a comfortable reading spot. Once you pick this book up, you won't be able to put it down.

Powerful and haunting, The Whipping Club is a book you won't soon forget. I look forward to more amazing stories from this author.

Rating: 4.5 stars

About Deborah Henry

Deborah Henry attended American College in Paris and graduated cum laude from Boston University with a minor in French language and literature. She received her MFA at Fairfield University. She is an active member of The Academy of American Poets, a Board member of Cavankerry Press and a patron of the Irish Arts Center in New York.

Curious about the duality of her own Jewish/Irish heritage, Henry was inspired to examine the territory of interfaith marriage and in so doing was led to the subject of the Irish Industrial School system. She has traveled to Ireland where she has done extensive research and interviews, including those with Mary Raftery (States of Fear documentary filmmaker and co-author of Suffer the Little Children) and Mike Milotte (award-winning journalist), as well as first-hand reports from the survivors of the Magdalene Laundries, Mother Baby Homes, Orphanages and the Industrial Schools.

Her first short story was published by The Copperfield Review, was a historical fiction finalist for Solander Magazine of The Historical Novel Society and was longlisted in the 2009/10 Fish Short Story Prize.

The Whipping Club is her first novel. She lives in Fairfield, Connecticut with her husband and their three children. She is currently at work on her next book.

For more information, please visit the author's website, Facebook page, and Twitter account.

Thanks to TLC Tours for my review copy.

Note: I received a complimentary copy for review purposes. A positive review was not requested or guaranteed; the opinions expressed are my own.

Please visit other stops on the The Whipping Club Blog Tour page.


Anonymous said...

A difficult read for sure, but it sounds really good all the same.

Thanks for being on the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

"Raw" is the perfect adjective for this story...and Adrian...what mother wouldn't want to risk everything to save him, right? I loved this one too. :)

Tia Bach said...

Thanks, Heather. I really enjoyed it!

Peppermint, So wonderful, and yes, mothers for sure can understand. My heart was breaking for her, especially at the end. But sometimes what's best for a Mom to do is simply not what's easy. Thanks so much for stopping by!