Dublin, 1962. Within the gated grounds of the convent of The Sisters of the Holy Redemption lies one of the city’s Magdalen Laundries. Once places of refuge, the laundries have evolved into grim workhouses. Some inmates are “fallen” women—unwed mothers, prostitutes, or petty criminals. Most are ordinary girls whose only sin lies in being too pretty, too independent, or tempting the wrong man. Among them is sixteen-year-old Teagan Tiernan, sent by her family when her beauty provokes a lustful revelation from a young priest. Teagan soon befriends Nora Craven, a new arrival who thought nothing could be worse than living in a squalid tenement flat. Stripped of their freedom and dignity, the girls are given new names and denied contact with the outside world. The Mother Superior, Sister Anne, who has secrets of her own, inflicts cruel, dehumanizing punishments—but always in the name of love. Finally, Nora and Teagan find an ally in the reclusive Lea, who helps them endure—and plot an escape. But as they will discover, the outside world has dangers too, especially for young women with soiled reputations.
I don’t know why, but I’ve always been fascinated by this kind of stories. I remember watching The Magdalen Sisters many years ago… it was both horrible and captivating. This book is strangely similar to the film, which is kind of weird but also makes sense because all the women trapped in the convent were there because of similar reasons. Still, I wished the book had been at least a bit more original in terms of plot.
This is the story of Teagan and Nora, two sixteen-year-olds whose only sin is to be young and pretty. I couldn’t believe what I was reading at first: Nora is brought to the convent after her family catches her seducing her boyfriend. I hated her family and his boyfriend, she deserved so much better than that. On the other hand, Teagan’s case is even more outrageous. When a new priest is welcomed to Teagan’s family parish, Teagan begins to feel that the priest is interested in her… So you would think by reading this that the priest is sent away, but NO. Who do you think is punished instead? And this was happening in the 60s, it’s not even the beginning of the XXth century.
It’s funny because as angry as I get with this sort of situations, I can’t seem to stop reading these stories. I’m a masochist. Life was so unfair back then. And yeah, I love 60’s music, fashion and films, but it was also an ugly time to live through if you were a woman. I guess that makes for great stories, though.
I finished The Magdalen Girls a couple of days ago and I’ve been thinking about how to write this review. Because although this was a novel that I thoroughly enjoyed and I believe it’s a great book overall, I’m afraid I also think it could’ve been better. The beginning was excellent and I enjoyed reading about the girls’ experiences in the convent, but I struggled a bit in the middle and I finished the book feeling I wouldn’t miss these characters as much as I had hoped.
What I liked the most
The setting, the darkness… This was such a gritty book and Mother Superior was so scary and cruel that I couldn’t stop reading. It was all tragic and interesting and I believe everyone should know this was happening in Ireland (and around the world) only about 65 years ago.
What I didn’t like that much
The story wasn’t surprising and I was a bit frustrated with some of the character’s decisions. It did also feel repetitive, especially when some actions kept happening over and over again. I wish I could’ve grown more attached to the characters as well.
A tragic and unfair story that everyone should know about. Captivating and intense, with some great characters to love and hate.
Kensington, 2016 – Netgalley