Stacey's Reviews > The Whipping Club

The Whipping Club by Deborah Henry
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May 09, 12

bookshelves: firstreads
Read from April 28 to May 09, 2012

I received 'The Whipping Club' as part of the Goodreads First Reads program. My first impression upon finishing the book; Wow!

The story spans over a decade in the lives of Marian McKeever and Ben Ellis, a Christian woman and a Jewish man who fall in love much to the horror of those around them. The story begins in the 1950's with the couple facing the hurdle of dining with Ben's Jewish and disapproving parents. From here, we learn of Marian's secret pregnancy and following an unexpected turn of events at the Ellis' house, Marian decides to keep the news to herself with the intention of protecting Ben and their future together, and travels to a 'mother and baby' home run by nuns. It is here she is led to believe her son Adrian will be adopted by a nice American family and will benefit from a better life.

Fast forward ten years or so and we meet Marian and Ben Ellis, married with a daughter Jo. After a visit from a nun from her past, Marian learns her son was never adopted and in fact, has been living in Ireland in an orphanage run by nuns. The rest of the book details the physical and emotional struggle faced by the Ellis family as they attempt to claim custody of Adrian.

I took an unusually long time to read this book, although I wouldn't say this is a negative. This book is a complete roller coaster ride of emotions and I almost felt I had to take it slowly to really reflect upon the depths of emotion felt by each character. Deborah Henry manages to incorporate many of the characters thoughts and feelings into the text, and although some may consider this constant change of view to be confusing, I had no problems keeping up and actually found it to be beneficial in understanding more fully the circumstances and events unfolding. This was especially evident when Marian conflicts with Ben in their methods to get their son back; Ben listens to the authorities and tries to keep calm in order to increase the likelihood of getting Adrian back, whilst Marian marches in full steam ahead with a fiery temper, determined to have her say and is horrified by Ben's lack of fight. The contrast of methods and consequently the contrast in opinions enabled me to see the strains on their marriage and therefore, predict the affect of their behaviour on those around them, in particular Jo. Many other reviews have mentioned a lack of feeling towards the key character Marian and at times, I too felt she was selfish and lacking the maternal instinct and drive to fight for her son however, I also found myself contemplating the choices she realistically would have had in Ireland during the 60's without having any kind of authority or power, and her position seemed a little more helpless evoking immense sympathy from me.

The descriptions of abuse suffered in the homes and orphanages in this era are harrowing to say the least. Physical, mental and sexual abuse are difficult topics to write about, especially involving children and I think Henry was extremely brave and very adept at tackling the subject sensitively enough without poring over too many gory details, although the details of the beatings may make some readers cringe. The painful aspect of reading these parts of the book is knowing that there are real survivors of these types of homes who can attest to the types of abuse suffered in some of them, and that is when the words truly hit home.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, although it's most definitely not a light read. The topics covered are full of pain and emotion but Deborah Henry has done a sterling job of digging into the depths of the characters emotions and portrayed their hurt, pain and loss through so many different eyes, making it impossible, from my point of view, for the reader to not share the feelings conveyed.
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05/06/2012 page 159
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