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The whipping club by Deborah Henry
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The whipping club

by Deborah Henry

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The Whipping Club by Deborah Henry follows Ben and Marian, a mixed couple of Jewish and Catholic backgrounds, their daughter Johanna, and their son, Adrian, who Marian gave up for adoption ten years earlier. Set in Ireland, the first chapter opens in 1957, but the novel is primarily set ten years later, 1967 and on. Finding herself pregnant before they married, Marian gives up Adrian, the couples first child, after staying in a Catholic home for unwed mothers. She and Ben marry later, and have their daughter, Johanna, but Marian is rife with guilt over giving up their son. Then she learns that Adrian was never adopted but was, instead, given over to an orphanage.

Marian tells Ben her secret, discovering that he already knew it, and the couple set out to find and then add their son back into their family. This struggle then illuminates the injustice and abuse orphans and unwanted children suffered at the hands of the Catholic run system in Ireland. At the same time their daughter Johanna is also facing religious intolerance based on her parentage.

The Whipping Club is a melancholy, bleak page turner. We experience Marian's (unnamed) depression, the brutality in the orphanages, the uncertainty that there is a satisfactory conclusion to the myriad of hopeless situations present. Henry is an adept writer and she does a good job with character development, even when several major characters were not very appealing. The story did keep my interest right up to the end. The descriptions of the brutal treatment of the children at the orphanages is horrific.

I did have a few qualms about the novel. First, while The Whipping Club is well written, the actual dialogue didn't fully convey the emotional upheavals the characters are experiencing. My biggest hesitation about the novel was that, as I was reading, the first part of the novel seemingly was heading one way and then diverged to another direction. While this could be describing an intriguing plot development shift, unfortunately in this case it feels more like the intent became obscured by a switch of focus and some clarity of purpose was lost.

Perhaps my reservations about the novel could be answered by integrating all the characters right from the beginning and weaving their stories together toward a final conclusion. That might have required rewriting the entire novel, a daunting prospect for a novel that really is not badly written to begin with.

So, in the end, I enjoyed reading The Whipping Club but I am feeling a dichotomy over rating it. It is a very well written novel and I've been known to rate based on writing ability. I've also been known to rate based on exciting plots in spite of the writing. Here we have skillful writing but the main storyline of the novel felt like it loss it's original focus and changed direction to a different focus - but different isn't always bad.

I've decided to Highly Recommended The Whipping Club, for a first novel, and watch for promising future novels by Henry.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher and TLC for review purposes.
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  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
I won a copy of this book a long time ago, but put off reading it because it looked like it was going to be so heavy. It turned out not to be what I thought, but I'm not sure it was better. This is a hard on to review objectively because I just so strongly disliked it. Everything in this book is grim, even the theoretically happy(ish) ending. It's all people feeling miserable and being miserable to each-other, especially those in position of authority, and all of that misery is offloaded onto the shoulders of a blameless 11-year-old boy. Even the kind characters are often complacent in horrendous abuses. I felt bad when I finished this book and I do not enjoy that experience.

I can say that I had trouble with the points of view. It stared centered solely on Marian and remained so long enough that I settled into the single POV, but then another one popped up and then another and another until we had an omniscient narrator. But it felt willy-nilly. I also sometimes had trouble telling what was meant to be current and what was memory or flashback.

And honestly, I just didn't particularly like any of the characters. I appreciated that Marian was educated and taught by her father to think for herself and be proud of her differences, something you don't see in a lot of mid-60s female characters, but I didn't relate to her. The only ones I came close to caring about were Adrian and Peter and they were brutalized. Peter especially, I felt he was little more than Henry's whipping boy, like she wanted this horrible thing to happen but didn't want to irrevocably contaminate her sympathetic character.

Then, it finished with this rousing declaration to protect the innocent and fight the good fight with a strength of will I didn't sense in any of the characters up that point. In the end, those who actually enjoy depressing book club books this may enjoy this. But it wasn't a winner for me. ( )
  SadieSForsythe | Feb 24, 2016 |
It is hard to imagine the pain of being pushed, basically forced, into giving your child up for adoption. It is even harder to imagine the pain felt when you discover that the pleasant life you thought your child was leading couldn't be farther from the reality he is suffering in. Deborah Henry puts her readers right in the midst of that pain, creating characters that you root for and despise and love and hate, sometimes all at once (there were times it was hard to like Marian).

I think a successful work of historical fiction makes the reader want to find out more. The Whipping Club makes me want to read more about the birthing homes, orphanages and Jewish/Catholic/Protestant prejudice in Ireland. I know these things exist elsewhere but the book has specifically sparked my interest in those of Ireland.

As far as the main overall story, I would actually give this book a 5, but I am giving it a 4 because I felt like there were a lot of loose ends in the subplots. I didn't feel like there was strong enough or clear enough resolution in Marian's relationships with her mother-in-law, her daughter, even her husband. I also want to know what happened with the investigation into Surtane, if the Catholics even allowed an actual investigation. Since there doesn't seem to be room for a sequel, an epilogue would have worked well.



*received a free digital copy through netGalley
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  twileteyes | Feb 4, 2016 |
Not really my cup of tea. ( )
  bksgoddess | Apr 3, 2013 |
Where to begin? I was drawn to this tale of a young Catholic girl in Ireland in love with a Jewish boy. Just as she is to meet his family she finds she is pregnant. It's the '50ies and interfaith marriage is challenging enough but sex before said marriage. Uh-uh. Of course our heroine, Marian finds herself pregnant and with the advice and help of her Uncle, a priest she hies off to a home for unwed mothers run by nuns. It turns out to be a prison like estate where the fallen girls are mistreated and browbeaten for their wantonness.

Ultimately Marian marries her Ben and they settle into life and have a daughter, Johanna. All seems right with the world until Nurse, a woman from Marian's past comes to the house to tell her that her son, Adrian is not with a family in America as she thought but rather in a Dublin orphanage and not doing so well. Marian confesses to Ben and seeks custody of their son only to find that the Catholic church and the laws of Ireland are very much against their regaining their own child.

A powerful tale eh? So much possibility. The horrors of the Catholic church. The evils it teaches, the power it held. The guilt of a mother. This could have been an excellent book. But for me it wasn't. The characters were all unlikable; Marian never changed. She was a whiny, unthinking woman who neglected her current family in the trials to regain her son. Ben a man of all the typical Jewish stereotypes who wanted to make peace wherever he could until the end. Johanna, a truly unpleasant child. Father Brennan, Marian's protector but only concerned with appearances. Then there were the nuns and priests at the orphan schools and orphanages - I'm sure the evils portrayed occurred but these were caricatures instead of characters.

The book was dark upon dark upon darker. There was minimal nuance and little hope. And the title? Good god! Was it to cause buzz? It comes from one small piece of the book and has minimal bearing on the story. ( )
  BrokenTeepee | Sep 11, 2012 |
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"The Whipping Club explores the sacrificial secrets we keep to protect our loved ones and the impact that uncovered secrets have on marriage, family and society. Both a wrenching family drama and a harrowing suspense story, it chronicles an interfaith couple's attempt in 1960s Ireland to save their son from corrupt institutions. A powerful saga of love and survival."--Kirkus Reviews (starred review).… (more)

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