Monday 26 December 2016


So Christmas Day has been and gone. You've rushed around doing everything for any guests and family you had round, now treat yourself to a book to curl up on the sofa or in bed to read. Indulge yourself with a fantastic, realistic read.

Title: The Magdalen Girls
Author: V.S. Alexander
Genre: Historical, Literary, Contemporary
Release Date: 27th December 2016

BLURB from Goodreads
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 have read other books similar to blurb of this one. It seems totally wrong to say I enjoy reading this type of story, as what has been done to these women truly is horrific. I do however believe that these books need to be written and read so that these awful acts are addressed publicly and officially (and loudly) apologised for. I think that there should be some form of amends made for the suffering these women underwent at the hands of those running the establishments.
The cover of the book fits the book very well. It features a young women about to become a Magdalen. We don't seethe young woman's face which represents the fact when entering the convent all the young girls are stripped of their previous identity, clothes, possessions and even their hair!
My thoughts throughout reading this book were on a continual tidal wave going up and down as the young women journeyed through their lives as best they could and their experiences were revealed. I find it a crazy concept that so many were forced to give up babies they could have supported with a little help. In comparison in this day and age young women in this situation have life a lot easier. In fact nowadays it sometimes seems that young women are being rewarded for having a child out of wedlock and with a father who has no way and no intention of supporting their offspring. As I am writing this section of my review I am only a few percent into reading this book and already I firmly believe an apology is way, way overdue for those whose lives were broken by such an horrific act of removing a woman's child so quickly after birth and for the treatment these women had to put up with in the laundries within convents and other similar establishments. Yes, its a subject I feel quite strongly about!"
I'm at around half way through the book and find myself really routing for the three main Magdalen's this book is centred on, to escape. Then again I wonder what would they or could they do if they escape. What help is there available to them if they do manage to get out of the convent. Society looks down on these women. If an escapee Magdalen is spotted, the majority of people won't help, they'll just call the guards. (Police)
I'd say that the genre this book falls into is realistic, women fiction. In a book store this book would be placed in the "romance and saga" section of the fiction department.
I guess I should give you a bit of an overview of the book. Basically we witness two different girls that though from similar backgrounds find themselves being shipped off to the nuns. To be more specific the nuns at The Sisters of the Holy Redemption. Neither of these two girls are actually pregnant, in fact they haven't even had sex at the time they are sent away. The two girls, naturally protest their innocence to their parents, and we the reader the reader know the girls are not guilty of anything but perhaps a little naivety. With each girl it is the father that is the main instigator that ensures they are sent away for good. 
Teagan Tiernan is accused of "making eyes" or "attempting to seduce" the new priest visiting the parish. Sure she finds the Father Mark attractive, he is after all the youngest Priest she has ever seen. The Priest seems pretty flattered by the attention he is receiving from the women of the parish himself. Teagan has a crush on a local boy, Cullen Kirby, only her heavy drinking father does not approve of him as Cullen is Protestant and the Tiernan family are a good Catholic family. 
Nora Craven is accused of "cavorting"with her boyfriend Pearse, who is somewhat older than her. Her father loses it when he catches Nora kissing Pearse in their family home.
Both girls receive a similar welcome at The Sisters of the Holy Redemption convent from the Mother Superior, Sister Anne. Sister Anne prides herself on showing the girls the error of their ways using love. Her love and the love of God. In fact Sister Anne has individual blocks with the letters LOVE on them in a prominent place in her office. Though as you read the book you quickly realise that Sister Anne's version of love is very different to that of a "normal" person. 
Both girls are given new names when they enter the institution, Teagan Tiernan is told she is now called Teresa and Nora Craven is given the new name of Monica. They are also now known as Magdalen's. The girls are taken to Sister Rose in the cuttery, as all Magdalen's are given a short hair cut, apparently to avoid accidents from long hair becoming caught in any machinery. The girls are also given a grey rough fabric shift style dress to wear. A white apron completes their uniform. The young women/girls are set to work in the laundry, which means sorting the laundry,washing it, stain removal, drying and ironing as well as any mending that needs to be done. The majority of the Magdalen's work in the laundry. Other more fortunate ones can be put to work making and repairing lace. 
There is other main Magadalen's we learn more about are Betty, an older woman who has long since become resigned to her montonous life of drudgery at the hands of the nuns. Then there's Patricia, a greedy, similar aged to Teagan and Nora, a petty Magdalen, who regularly snitches on her fellow Magdalen's to the nuns to gain favour. Patricia plans on becoming a nun as soon as she is able. From what we see of her character within this books pages, she would fit right in with the majority of the nuns featured in the book. The last Magdalen who plays a large important part within the book is Lea. Lea is a considered a "good magdalen" by the nuns and does not work in the laundry. She has her own task which is reproducing a copy of the "Book Of Kells". 
In one scene in the book Teresa, Monica and Lea are being punished made to lay as if on the cross like Jesus. they are instructed they may not eat, drink nor soil themselves and will stay there until Sister Anne deems them to have learnt their lesson. The girls react different during the punishment. Teresa is silent, Lea mutters a prayer and the still confident at this stage Monica spits on Sister Anne!
Another more favoured punishment is being put in the penitent's room. Which from the description is more like a cupboard, with a small stool in it and nothing else. Once the door is closed and locked the penitent is left in the dark to think on their sin. Whilst in the room, Sister Mary-Elizabeth sneaks the "guilty party" a drink, a slice of toast or for a visit to the jacks (toilets).
Sister Anne, the Mother Superior comes across as a very nasty piece of work who actually seems to almost enjoy the punishments she doles out! Though later in the book we learn that she has her own inner demons and her own family history to deal with. In fact that very family history that pains her literally once again lands on the doorstep of The Sisters of the Holy Redemption for her to deal with!
Though I really loved all the characters of Teagan/Teresa, Nora/Monica and Lea, I found Lea fascinating. She seems to exist in her own little world in her head. She wants everyone to be happy and be nice to each other, and that's her wish for the Magdalen's and the Nun's. So sadly it is something that is unlikely to happen within the book. I guess you could say one of the three girls is vindicated and eventually escapes The Sisters of the Holy Redemption for a new life. Though I doubt her memories of her time with the Nun's is something she will ever forget, nor be able to fully forgive. Another of the three girls escapes briefly, but seems doomed to stay at The Sisters of the Holy Redemption forever, and seems to have lost all hope of ever having any kind of "normal" existence. The last girl of the three does a selfless act, that sadly fails having a tragic end outcome for more than one of the Magdalen's. 
I did enjoy reading the book, and think the circumstances covered in the book that actually really did happen to many girls, needs to be something told and retold and passed down the generations. I was both surprised and shocked to read that institutions such as the one featured in this book where still in existence and operational in 1996!
The subject of babies being taken away from their mother and put up for adoption is touched upon in this book, though is not the main theme. I think there are many people, in fact I'd probably go as far as saying, many more people than we may realise that were affected by all the different aspects that this book touches on. It is imperative that these displaced children and parents be reunited if they wish.
It is truly truly horrific when you think about the families that have been torn apart. That sure this actual book is fiction but I feel I should stress it is based on real events!
I have already recommended this book to my mum, and daughter, insisting they must read it. My heart genuinely goes out to anyone that has either been through what is depicted in the book either themselves or a family member or friend they know has suffered in this way. My mum and I have read other similar titles and watched movies on the subject. How could I describe this book in only two words? "Thought provoking" kind of horrific to learn the book is a depiction of what was really going on behind those convent walls.
A subject I feel strangely fascinated with it all. Would like to read more on the subject n totally agree with the Author and her reasoning why this has been kept quiet even in the present date. I cannot believe that these institutions were still in existence in 1996, just twenty yrs ago!!!
I could go on and on about this book and others I have read similar to it but I will force myself to limit myself to one last sentence to sum up my final thoughts on this book. I found the book a very emotional and moving read.

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