March 19, 2012

Whipping Club Review

I just finished The Whipping Club and I have mixed feelings about it. I was really looking forward to reading this book- its a family drama set in Ireland that talks about the cruelty found in mid century Irish orphanages. I expected to cry over this book and get a shot in the face- which I kinda did. I think this is going to be a long review as I talk through my feelings.

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.  

How I felt about this book: 
The cover and title- I love this cover- I think its really pretty and intriguing. I like the single lit window shows the chance of hope. 

The characters- This is where I got a little iffy in this book. I didn't really fall in love with any of the characters in this book. I thought the mom, Marian, was a little pathetic to be honest. When she was young she gave her son up for adoption- without letting the father, her husband know about it. Then she spends the rest of her life kind of listless and depressed. I can empathize with all of this and I feel bad for her. I just thought her mood swings and listlessness were too abrupt and I couldn't like her as much as I was hoping too. I thought I could fall in love with the husband then- he had a son out there he didn't know about so I felt sad for him- but I couldn't love him either.  He had a tendency to give up on his loved ones way too easily. They were fighting to get their son back but he wasn't falling in love with his son like I wanted him too. When the authorities were set on taking his son away he was just too complacent for me.  Marian and Ben had a daughter after she gave Adrian up for adoption that I also liked but she was a little too jealous and had a tendency to think of her actions after she's done them.

My favorite character from this book was Adrian. I liked him because he was very brave and showed steel in the toughest possible times but I think I felt too sorry for him and his situation to fall in love with him. I couldn't get behind him like I hoped to as he fought for his situation. 

There was a host of other characters but I really want a hero to fall in love with in a book and there was no one that really became that hero for me. All in all, I found the characters in this book just a little too flawed to fall in love with. This being said, there were tons of characters to hate that did help drive the story. 

The story- I thought this story sounded so interesting when I requested it on netgalley and it really was an interesting and gripping story. I liked how the author showed not only how Adrian's life was in his orphanage but also how his family was dealing without him. This was a gritty story that showed great emotion and there weren't many parts in this story that dragged. I think the one thing I didn't like about the story was there were very few just happy moments for the family where they could enjoy being together which I think would have invested me emotionally. 

Overall- If I had a rating system I would give this book a 3.5/5. I liked the story line but the characters are the ones that brought this book down for me. I couldn't fall in love with any of the characters and while I really liked Adrian but he couldn't carry this book alone. I was fine with the rawness of the book and the topics in it and I would say this book is definitely worth a read despite some of the characters  being a little too flawed.  I would recommend this book to adult fiction readers who are ok with some language, violence, religious topics, and other very adult topics. 

Buy it at Amazon here, Barnes and Noble here, or Book Depository here!
* I received and e-galley of this book from netgalley for free but all opinions are mine alone.


  1. I have to say, that was one of the most well written reviews that I have read in a while. You have a very honest and forthwith writing voice. LOL about the many characters to hate helping to drive the story. Thanks for the review! Glad I stopped by : ) ~ Jess

    1. Thank you SO much for that comment! I was talking on the phone when I read the email about it and I read it out loud to my boyfriend and roommate and spent probably 5 minutes singing your praises and wanting to hug you. I usually try to keep my reviews shorter so people can scan through and find the information they care most about but I needed to talk through my feelings for this book. There really were some EVIL characters in this book that you loved to hate that drove the story along well.


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