The Magdalen Girls by V.S. Alexander – 304 pages
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.
My Review: 3 stars
The Magdalen Girls focused on a subject of history that I didn’t know much about, the Magdalene Laundries/Asylums. The Magdalen Laundries were mostly based in Ireland in the 20th century. It is where promiscuous, rebellious or unwed pregnant girls were sent to learn the error of their ways. Catholic nuns managed the Laundries and tried to rehabilitate the girls through hard work, punishment and prayer. It’s a black mark on the churches’ history for the horrific abuse these girls suffered.
The author does a good job at explaining the awful living conditions these girls endured in the name of G-d. Each chapter switched between one of our two protagonists (with a couple from the nun) allowing the reader to more fully understand who these girls were and how they adjusted to their new roles as a Magdalen girls. Each girl there was different, yet they were forced into the same mind numbing, unjust life of forced labor.
The story was intriguing, but writing itself was a little too simplistic for me to consider it well executed. Even the twist at the end felt weak, as there wasn’t enough substance to make the reader invest in it. Often I knew what was going to happen, making the storylines rather predictable. Nonetheless, I’m still glad I got a glimpse into the lives of the women that my only prior reference came from the Joni Mitchell song, The Magdalene Laundries. This YouTube video offers disturbing yet helpful visuals after reading the book.