The Whipping Club by Deborah Henry
- Method of Obtaining: I received my copy from the publisher via TLC Book Tours.
- Published by: T.S. Poetry Press
- Release Date: 2/15/2012
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.
Reason for Reading:
- The title – it’s quite the eye-catching one.
I also recommend:
I attempted to read The Whipping Club a few months ago, but the edition I had made it difficult to follow and, unfortunately, I had to DNF it. So I was happy when I received a hard copy of the book and was able to read it without all of the false stops and starts the e-copy I had gave me.
In The Whipping Club, Henry moves us between past and present and the lives of Marian, Ben, and their children Adrian and Jo. There’s just a little bit of everything in this book to make it a hard, heavy read – religious tensions, abuse, rape, forced adoption, neglect, family tensions … you name it. As a result, I really struggled with wanting to pick up the story. Not because it wasn’t written or paced well, mind you, but just because the subject matter was so darn heavy and I was dying throughout the book for just a glimpse of hope. Just a glimpse.
I think this book has a lot to recommend it to book clubs – there is enough material in it to give fodder for multiple, serious discussions. But if you are wanting a feel goodl, all’s well that ends well, story then this isn’t the one for you. In addition, keep in mind that even with the improved format in hard copy (and the e-copy is probably fine too, I had received an advance copy) that it’s still difficult to transition between past and present as there were no real boundaries throughout the book, so engage actively with the text for sure.
About the Author
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 in creative writing at Fairfield University and has the passionate support of many first-class novelists including Jacquelyn Mitchard, Pulitzer prize winner Robert Olen Butler, Da Chen, Michael White, Martine Bellen, Caroline Leavitt, Dawn Tripp Susan Henderson and Irishman Thomas Cooke, Emmy-award winning writer and director. Her first review of THE WHIPPING CLUB, a Kirkus Review earned a Kirkus Star. Deborah 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.
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