Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Magdalen Girls - predictable vanilla Blarney

Greetings, Deplorables!

I am back to reviewing fine historical fiction. I rarely post about a book that I give anything less than 4 stars, but I wanted to share my review of The Magdalen Girls, in light of recent debates about "women's rights" and how "American women don't know how good they have it". This book tells you more about the sad state of medium-size publishing and what kind of books publishers like Kensington are willing to produce. The trend for headless women on the covers persists, as does the usage of word "girl/s" in the title.

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.

My thoughts
In 1960s, as the rest of the Western world was in the throes of sexual revolution, Ireland was in a weird place. A recently liberated country, still working to define its statehood, it was slipping into theocracy. "The Magdalen Girls" doesn't get any points for originality. This is the kind of vanilla Blarney that a skittish, play-it-safe publisher like Kensington would churn out. Totally predictable and unimaginative, capitalizing on the proven cliches, "The Magdalen Girls" is a deja-vue from start to finish. Maeve Binchy died and left a void in that needed to be filled with more white bread. The stereotypical portrayal of the Irish father as a heartless, misogynistic drunk will make pseudo-feminists very happy. And of course, making the Catholic church look like a bunch of hypocritical predators will make secular humanists have that nice and fuzzy feeling. There are some parts that are just butt-clenchingly bad, like a 17-year old girl saying out loud: "I want to do more than just cook and clean." Really, sweetie? Never heard that before. That being said, I'm not going to knock the book too much. It is what it is. If you don't want to take chances and read serious books with the right balance of drama and grim humor, this is a book for you.

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