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….
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.
Publication date: 27 Dec 2016
When I first started reading this book, I felt as though fate had somehow decreed that I read it because in some respects, it gave a possibility to a family mystery for me, or at least another path for me to investigate.
Looking at my grandmother Rose’s family in the 1911 Census I noticed that her name was missing from the list of family members. I later found her listed as a laundress inmate in a local convent in Wirral. Her father was a very staunch Irish Catholic from Co Cork who disowned Rose four years later in 1916 when she married my Protestant grandfather. I’d speculated that Rose was an unmarried mother, hence her residence in a convent. I was aware such places existed but The Magdalen Girls has opened up another possibility that she may have been sent to live there by her father, the local parish priest, or by a collusion of the two as per some of the characters within the book. Was my grandmother – who incidentally died in 1928 aged 36, so I never met her – perceived to be of low moral character or in danger of becoming so because of her association with a non-Catholic? It’s entirely possible.
Set in Dublin in 1962 with a fast flowing narrative. I found this book to be a completely absorbing and gripping fictional account taken from real life events of the cruel regime inflicted on young girls in Ireland and beyond who had been signed over to the Magdalen nuns to become penitents and repent their ‘sins’ while working in the harsh environment of a laundry. I warmed to all of the girls and really wanted any escape attempts to be successful.
As a former convent schoolgirl, I was already only too aware that not all nuns are like the saintly, saccharine sweet Nonnatus House ones as portrayed in Call The Midwife.
The author has skilfully told the story of each of the three girls whose stories and fates are revealed in this book. I found it virtually impossible to put down.
Well researched and insightful.
One of the best books I’ve read so far this year.
Thanks to the publisher Kensington via Net Galley for my copy that I chose to review.