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The whipping club by Deborah Henry

The whipping club

by Deborah Henry

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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 |
Read the full review here: http://bit.ly/HStNQA

Being part to the book industry means that I am aware of many good books and often struggle to manage my TBR list, doubling and tripling in size each season. Word of mouth, of course, is the best indicator of good literature. Shelf discovery, those long meanderings through aisles of towering bookcases in a nearby local bookstore, is noteworthy too. And yet as I work my way into the publishing industry, reading industry newsletters and blogs and even following popular Twitter accounts, more and more books that I read are not good. I fear this is a strange counter-culture knee jerk – the selfish desire to read an absolutely wonderful book that no one else has read or heard of. And thus the paradox, the root of my troubles: if no one is reading this book or talking about it, you can bet there’s a reason. Especially when publishers, agents and booksellers are reading and sharing the same 5-10 books a season.

And so it was, armed with this implausible hope, that I downloaded a NetGalley copy of The Whipping Club (T.S. Poetry Press, 2012) by Deborah Henry to my e-reader, a Nook Simple Touch. The advance copy was available to anyone on NetGalley who requested it (this should have been a flag) and the publisher was one I didn’t recognize (another flag). But the synopsis drew me in and the setting was Ireland, so I couldn’t resist.

When Catholic Marian McKeever discovers that she is pregnant before she weds Jewish Ben Ellis, she is coerced to abandon the illegitimate child, fearing greater objections from their families than interfaith. And though she and Ben wed the next year and have a daughter soon after, Marian has never been able to assuage her guilt. So when 11 years later Marian learns her firstborn child is a ward of the Irish state, abused and malnourished in a local orphanage, she is compelled to atone for her sins. Marian and Ben must confront their troubled past and reveal their darkest secrets if they are going to fight through the red tape – passive legal systems and trenchant religious institutions – to bring him back home.

I opened The Whipping Club on my e-reader, expecting a compelling and powerful story, and immediately all my hopes were dashed. The book was a PDF file, not an e-pub. As a result, all text had strange formatting with every few phrases or sentences alternating font styles and sizes. Someone working for Deborah Henry – or perhaps Henry herself – made a significant mistake.

Then I chastised myself: if the story is good, the formatting errors won’t matter. I even went online as a precaution to see what people on GoodReads had to say. But despite encouragement from fellow readers on GoodReads and promises that this novel was “gripping” and “unputdownable,” my reading experience did not improve. I finished the novel and I was disappointed. I felt duped by the book’s praises and endorsements.

Yes, this was a story of “love and survival.” No, it was not “powerful.” Yes, the themes are complex and “multilayered.” No, Henry’s prose is not “engaging” or “poetic” and her dialogue is not “seamless.” Marian was underdeveloped, a character plagued by too much internal dialogue and not enough action. There were too many perspectives, the novel unfolding to include Ben’s, Adrian’s, Nurse’s, Father Ryder’s, and Father Brennan’s perspectives (and that’s not a comprehensive list). Nearly all the characters contributed to the drama and the effect was akin to a deformed and abandoned jigsaw puzzle. Though Henry’s concept was good, the novel needed developmental editing. The greatest compliment I can offer is Henry delivered an honest, balanced, non-reductive portrait of Catholic Ireland in the 1960s (and Jewish Ireland, for that matter) and the challenges faced by many individuals during that historical moment.

This debut novel sounds intriguing – absolutely – but the execution was poor and the story unpolished. A concept is rarely powerful enough to overtake such major flaws in craft. It is sad but true, and most writers’ deceive themselves thinking that they are gifted enough write a bestseller when they are also deaf to editorial input and derisive of experience.

The Whipping Club’s premise is complex, political and emotionally-charged. This was a book I should like and enjoy, especially given the professional book cover design. Ah, but what is that aphorism? Oh yes, don’t judge a book… ( )
  SwensonBooks | Apr 3, 2012 |
This review first appeared on my blog:


This is a tale of the injustices wrought by the Irish Industrial Schools and orphanages in the 1950's and 1960's.

Marian, a teacher at a Jewish school, is Irish Catholic and her boyfriend Ben is Jewish. Shortly before meeting Ben's parents, Mariam finds out that she is pregnant. After a totally disastrous meeting, Marian decides to go to a Mother Baby Home to have her child, who, she is told, is subsequently given up and adopted by an American family.

Years later, after Ben and Marian have married and become parents to a daughter named Johanna, a nurse from the home visits Marian to tell her that the son she had given up, Adrian, is NOT in America, but is at an orphanage where he is being mistreated.

This novel follows Mariam as she tries to regain custody of Adrian. It speaks of horrific abuse at the hands of the system, a mother's heartache in having failed her son, and the bias and prejudice that contributes to what is already an unbearable situation.

My feelings: The novel feels a bit rushed and jumpy at the start, and reads more intellectually than emotionally - the writing is rather detached, and, as a reader, I was not able to connect with any of the characters. I felt as though I were a dispassionate observer almost through the very end of the novel. If this were a non-fiction title, that would be acceptable; however, as fiction, most readers expect some feeling to come from the pages, especially around the issues that this novel centers around.

Marian imagines prejudice where none exists, and seems very close-minded and selfish. Her husband Ben rightly believes that there is something a bit "off" about Adrian (and that is understandable, given how he has been raised up to this point). Adrian is a bit more of a puzzle; I felt more for him, imagining how much worse his life must have felt once he got a true taste of family.

I feel that this novel is a good start towards shining a light on a system which few were aware of, but it could and should have been so much more.

QUOTES (from an eGalley; may be different in final copy):

The girl closed the door behind them and invited Marian to sit down while she herself remained standing, hovering by the door. It was then that Marian realized that the nurse wasn't there for comfort, but to keep her from running.

Sister Agnes told them that it costs to raise the spawn of whores and that orphans had nothing to add to what the state provided for their upkeep.

Writing: 4 out of 5 stars
Plot: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Characters: 2 out of 5 stars
Reading Immersion: 2 out 5 stars

BOOK RATING: 2.9 out of 5 stars ( )
  jewelknits | Apr 3, 2012 |
This is the story of an Irish Catholic woman and Jewish man who fell in love with one another. She began pregnant and was encouraged by her priest to give up the child to an orphanage run by Catholics with the understanding that the child would likely be adopted by an American family. Years later after she and her lover are married and have a child, she becomes aware that the boy is still in Ireland at the orphanage. She and her husband attempt to regain custody of their child, but they are met with resistance. Will they succeed in their efforts? What will happen to the child?

This is not a story for everyone. The abuse suffered by the child is extreme, and it's definitely not for the squeamish. The writing was a bit uneven. The characters were not as developed as they could have been. It's a scathing indictment of the homes for unwed mothers and orphanages run by the Catholics.

This review was based on an e-galley provided by the publisher through NetGalley with the expectation that a review would be written. ( )
  thornton37814 | Mar 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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