The Whipping Club by Deborah Henry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Marian and Ben, young lovers in 1950s Ireland, are on the road to learning some of Life's more difficult lessons. Marian (Catholic) is pregnant, and about to tell Ben (Jewish)...but after a disastrous first meeting with his parents, she hies off to a Catholic "Mother & Baby" home to complete her pregnancy and "give up" the baby for adoption.
Fast forward ten years.....Marian and Ben are married with a daughter, Johanna, and life is good. Things start to unravel when the "other" child makes an appearance, though not directly at first. Seems Adrian was not adopted by a wealthy American couple, but has been languishing in a Catholic Orphanage, within spitting distance (okay, I exaggerate, here) of Marian's happy home. Thus begins the journey through Irish Adoption Law...the quest to "get Adrian back".
After a shaky period within the bosom of his family, Adrian is returned to the Orphanage while the wheels of Church and State grind slow, his fate in the balance, since he is legally the ward of one Sister Agnes....head "angel" of the Orphanage.. He befriends another orphan, a girl...and all hell breaks loose because they are kids and curious. The girl is shipped off to a madhouse and Adrian is consigned to an Industrial School for Boys, where the loving attention of the priests leaves many marks.
If this story seems to be following a pattern...it is. It did. It is a fierce indictment of the Catholic Orphanage/Industrial School system....of the "homes" for unwed mothers....of the abuse of defencless children by priests and nuns....but it is told more from the side of one family caught up in the system's net. The toll taken on a marriage through guilt, frustration, and anger..Marian spends a lot of time blaming herself for Adrian's situation...and suspecting her husband of countless infidelities....and envying his ties to Judaism and "faith"....Ben goes through life trying to succeed at his job as a Journalist, being thwarted at every turn for his "radical" ideas....trying to understand his wife's mood swings...Johanna goes through life as a kid in a shaky home situation...The Church people go through life with "God's blessings"
I liked this book for its restraint..and respect the author for not turning it into a screed...for developing believable characters caught in a heartbreaking situation, without reverting to a "4 hankie" fest...I came away from this book still angry as hell at the blindness of the Catholic Church and the cruelty meted out in the name of God....but I am glad I saw the human side of this one story..
Recommended to anyone who wants to be pleasantly surprised at the handling of one Hot Button Issue
***this was a Net Galley***