Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Magdalen Girls

Title:  The Magdalen Girls
Author:  V. S. Alexander
Publication Information:  Kensington. 2016. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1496706129 / 978-1496706126

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The nuns convened near the doorway like a swarm of black flies."

Favorite Quote:  "I've learned you  can't erase the past no matter how hard you try."

Mary Magdalen was a follower of Jesus Christ and is said to have witnessed his crucifixion and resurrection.  Some have deemed her a saint. At the same time, history has often also labeled Mary Magdalen a repentant fallen woman. The historic and religious significance of the title is clear. These are not the saints. The Magdalen Girls is the story of women - girls - that have been labeled as "fallen" and who need to repent. Whether or not the label is warranted is a part of this story.

The Magdalen laundries or asylums were church-run institutions for the rehabilitation of these women. Truly, they were places for families to walk away from these young girls. These institutions were prevalent in Ireland even as recently as the 1960s, but they were also found in many other nations. Life in these institutions was harsh, and the living conditions were abysmal. The Magdalen Girls is the story of one such institution - those who ran it and those who were essentially incarcerated there.

Teagan, Nora, and Lea are three of the Magdalene girls. All three have been committed to the convent by their families but for different reasons. Teagan, or Theresa as she is called at the convent, is judged guilty on the word of a priest. Nora comes to the convent because of a young man and because of her father's anger. Lea is there simply because she is different. The three become friends, joined together by their individual rebellions against the authority of the convent. Will they escape? Do they escape? These are the questions that drive this story.

The book has religious and mystical overtones. Set in a Catholic convent, it would be surprising if it did not. The nuns see punishment as a depiction of love and pain as a route to absolution. Visions of Mary and other souls appear in this closed environment. What is surprising is that Tarot cards also feature in this setting.

This book is a page turner because I begin to admire the girls' resilience and their ability to survive. I am shocked by their families' decisions. I become part of the friendship they find in these trying circumstances. I root for their escape while wondering what path might be open to them if they do escape. I turn the pages and go through their trials and tribulations with them.

Many surprises await on their path. In each twist and turn, the book captures another element of the history of the Magdalen girls. Society's treatment. Power of the church. History of mass graves and abuse that follows the Magdalen laundries. One twist, however, tacks an element on to this story that I find unnecessary. No spoilers but I will say I would find the story stronger without the idea that the nuns' treatment of the girls could be based on more than their absolute belief and faith in what they were doing.

Regardless, the book keeps me reading until the very last page, and then turning the page again to find out what happens next. I almost hope for a sequel to see what happens next.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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