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.
Told with candor, compassion, and vivid historical detail, The Magdalen Girls is a masterfully written novel of life within the era’s notorious institutions—and an inspiring story of friendship, hope, and unyielding courage.
Book Rating: 9/10
Harrowing, poignant, and deeply moving!
This novel brings to light and reminds us of the abhorrent institutions known as “laundries” where women who were supposedly fallen were sent for treatment, often for trivial reasons, only to endure emotional and physical abuse, excessive workloads, meagre basic necessities and often vicious, sadistic punishments.
The story follows the lives of three different girls, Teagan, Nora and Lea, and reflects on the different spirits, strength, and resilience each uses to survive in such demeaning environments.
The prose is sophisticated and descriptive. The characters are multi-layered, dejected, and strong. And the plot is a good mix of historical fact and intriguing fiction.
I have to say I did not know much about these so-called “laundries” before I read this novel and I am touched and appalled to think of all the women who lived and suffered in these horrific institutions and continued to do so late in the 20th century, with the last one only closing in 1996.
Overall, this is definitely an enlightening, heartrending novel that is well researched, well written and extremely impactful.
Thank you to NetGalley, especially Kensington Books, for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.
This book is due to be published on December 27, 2016.
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