It is 1957. Marian and Ben, an inter-faith (Catholic and Jewish) couple are working to carve a new life out for themselves in Ireland. After a disastrous meeting with Ben’s parents on the day that Marian gets some shocking news, Marian makes a decision that will eventually be her family’s undoing.
The Whipping Club
by Deborah Henry
T.S. Poetry Press
Young, scared, and faced with impending motherhood, Marian succumbs to the pressure of her Catholic priest Uncle and enters a maternity home to await the arrival of her child. She tells Ben she is taking an extended trip out of town, never disclosing to him that she is expecting their first child together. She has been told that the maternity home nuns will find a suitable adoptive American family and accepts this as what will happen.
Over a decade later, Marian and Ben have married and have a daughter together. Their life together is far from ideal, as Marian is distant and detached, and Ben is weak and near spineless. Their daughter is crying out for their attention, particularly from Marian.
One day, in the midst of their difficult family life, a nurse from the maternity home shows up with some disturbing news: their son, Adrian, never made it to a new home in America. Instead, he was sent to one of the worst orphanages in Ireland.
The story that follows is one of the plight of thousands of children in 1950’s and 60’s Ireland, as unwed mothers found themselves pressured into entering these homes to await the birth of their children. Eventually, those children would either be adopted out or send to live in orphanages.
Deborah Henry weaves the story of one of these families in The Whipping Club. At times creating sympathy, others anger, sometimes hopeful, and in turn hopeless, Henry keeps the reader riding a roller coaster of emotions. At the beginning of the story, I found that I could understand why a young Marian made the decision she did. She had no parents, was in an unexpected situation, and was being stifled by the social stigma created by the time period.
A decade later, I found that Marian was someone with whom I had difficulty sympathizing at times. Once she learned of Adrian’s fate, she did work to correct the decisions of the past. On the other side of that, there were times when Marian displayed an inability to own those decisions and wanted others to pay penance for them. In that same decade, Ben has become an enabler who is just as spineless as ever.
Mixed in are a collection of others players who seem to be fighting their own demons, their own sins, and their own societal restraints. Every time I thought they were getting to the point where their lives were reaching turning point, Henry throws them another curve ball and they are all back to square one.
In the end, I land on the fence on this one. I kept wanting them all to get their acts together, and it seemed like they never would. Most of the characters, all adults, wanted to blame someone else for the mistakes they had made. There comes a point when you have to own what you have done and take charge. For this novel, it doesn’t come until the novel is almost over. Since I read to escape “real” life, I prefer a little more hope in my fiction. But, that is a personal preference. Henry’s novel is very much true to life, and once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down.
Robin Gwaro is a founding book review blogger at Bookgateway.com and has generously supplied this review. She describes herself as “a woman just trying to keep it all together. Most days, I have the juggling act down! Others, I have the broom and dustpan handy to clean up the mess. My life is not always easy, it is not always neat, but it is always worth every minute!” Her personal blog is Just Wandering. Not Lost.
This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.