Friday, September 21, 2012

TLC Book Review - The Whipping Club

The Whipping Club by Deborah Henry
T.S. Poetry Press, 2012

Why? Since I visited Ireland last year, I've been anxious to read more fiction with it as the backdrop.  I'm all about a touching family saga as well...and boy, is this ever one.  

Format? oversized paperback

Source? from the publisher via TLC Book Tours
***FTC Disclosure - I was provided a copy of The Whipping Club from the publisher via TLC Book Tours  in exchange for a review; however, the opinions below are my own and are without bias.

Cover? the beautiful countryside with the older looking building sitting in the foreground is misleading at first, but once I finished the book, I realized that the building sits in the shadows while the light is in the distance, not too far to reach, but just painfully so...and only one light is burning in the otherwise darkness.

What Now?  I can't give this one goes in the antique shelves in my den, and I'll be buying myself the hardback version as well...that is, after I quit blubbering and stop blowing my nose.
I would also love to hear this one on audio...the accents, the Jewish, Catholic and Irish vocabulary done well would be worth experiencing The Whipping Club again.  I can't wait to see what Deborah Henry comes up with next.

Golden Lines

Stay afloat my Ben, she wanted to say with that smile.  He would move on, keep trying to fix the world, while she lay there struggling, and now she felt the old undertow dragging her down.  Don't let me pull you down, she thought, getting up to wash her face before heading back downstairs to start the evening meal.

Americans come all the way here to avoid colored genes.  How could we give them this one, this Jew? she said.

She began to tear up, and he held her, sniffed as if he smelled something unfamiliar. Where had she been today?  And yet he leaned closer, played with her hair.  He loved her.  She knew this.  She always knew this.  Long before he undressed her.  Long before he said the words.

Real orphans were treated far worse thatn the children who had regular, paying visitors.  Sister Agnes told them that it costs to raise the spawn of whores and that orphans had nothing to add to what the State provided for their upkeep. 

Seeing first hand this intimate liason between the Church and State burned Marian up inside.

They should all marry Jews," Marian said.  "Nobody wants to popify them, except Christ, of course, but who listens to God?  We're all too busy shouting at each other," she said...

She flipped on the telly, fiddled with the rabbit ear antennae, the damn static snow.  Fourteen civil rights demonstrators were shot dead by British paratroopers.  Twenty-two explosions by the provisional IRA left nineteen people killed by noon.  Direct rule from London had been imposed.  There had been demonstrations from Coalesland to Dungannon in county Tyrone.  Belfast, especially, was a divided city.

"Benjamin, listen to me.  We gave you a full childhood.  A star tennis player for the Maccabi association, now a star journalist, an educated memeber of Jewish society.  I am proud of you. but you are so brazen in your ignorance.  You are about to assimilate, water down your essence."
"It is not my essence," Ben argued. "My essence is human."
"You're a Jew.  You don't belong with her."

Adrian's head went down, and Ben was the cruel one now, as his son's face and neck turned the color beets in a bowl of borscht.  He felt helpless - there was too much to teach - and he was at a loss for words.  He dropped his head back into his hands, his temples pulsating.

"Use that pointer on my son Adrian - "
"Number Four Seventy-Six?" the teacher interrupted.
"Adrian Ellis, teacher.  Use that pointer on him, and I promise you," Ma said in her ear.  "I will run that thing so far up your ass it will come out your throat.  Did you hear what I said?"
Teacher nodded.

Sister Agnes began wrapping Rosemary's breasts in the bandage.  "No breasts were meant to be so large.  These are simply the product of an unhealthy union.  Your mother made you in sin.  Where's your mother now?"
"In hell, Sister." Rosemary sniffled.

...the Church and the State behave as incestuous bedfellows, keeping the whole of Ireland in a guilt-ridden headlock...

"I just want to be small again, so I can start over with you.  I want to be born again, begin at the beginning," he cried.  


In 1950's Dublin, Marian, a Catholic teacher working in a Jewish school meets and falls in love with Ben, the Jewish journalist.  Marian becomes pregnant and is planning to tell Ben about the pregnancy the night she meets his parents for the first time.  She is pressured by an uncle to go to a home for unwed mothers and have the child in private, convincing Marian that she and Ben will not have a chance in life if he marries her now.  Ben's mother makes no secret of her disapproval of the relationship, and his father actually dies that very night after the dramatic episode in their home involving the whole family.  Marian leaves, finds herself in much worse surroundings than she's been promised, has her baby, and then is told her baby will go to a loving home in America.
Marian returns to Ben, and they are married and have a daughter together, Johanna.  11 years later a woman who worked at the home for unwed mothers where Marian gave birth to Adrian, "Nurse," appears on their doorstep to inform Marian that Adrian was not sent to America and is, in fact, living in an orphanage in Ireland.
Vowing to not lose her child again, Marian must tell Ben of the decision she made so long ago and then take the steps necessary to regain her own child who she has no legal guardianship over any longer after signing away her rights as a young confused woman.
Ben and Marian's fight to save Adrian becomes the fight of their lives.

What I Liked

What I LOVED is that this story begins like the familiar tale of an unmarried woman who gives her child away in order to escape the shame associated with becoming pregnant before marriage and a child born of mixed heritage.  However, that's where the similarities of The Whipping Club and every other narrative about "secret" pregnancies/births end.  It's no spoiler to note that this child's existence comes to light 11 years later, and the two parents, now married with another child, have to deal with the consequences (both expected and unexpected) of this choice made so long ago.  But, one of the very best conversations in the entire novel to me was when Marian told Ben about their son Adrian.  I was hooked from this point on.

Ben and Marian - an honest relationship, the depth of their feelings for one another...despite and including all their differences.  All they know is that they need each other.  They hold onto one another through the good, the bad, and the very bad.  Marian is a hot-head; Ben is more controlled.  But, when the need arises, they switch roles.  They are not one; they are two individuals who choose to be together; they choose to be a all costs.

Adrian - the survivor - there are not enough words for this character.  This is a child that any mother would risk her life to protect.  His love is pure, his spirit alive, and he never gives up.  You will cheer for him, you will want to jump into the book to save him, you will want to scream at his parents to GO GET HIM!!!

Father Mack - he tells Adrian that the strongest trees survive the harshest winds...he is the beacon for Adrian in an otherwise hopeless situation.

Johanna - like her brother, she's a survivor in her own way.  In some ways, however, even though her home environment is the better of the two, she seems more likely to fall apart than Adrian at times.  She is a teenage girl, and even in the midst of her brother's tortuous imprisonment, she still demands attention just as any other teenage girl would do.  I appreciated Henry's willingness to include Johanna's very real life reactions to her brother's return, her confusion, and the continuation of her own life and issues.

The history - the turmoil in Ben and Marian's life is paralleled with the turmoil between Northern Ireland and the rest of the country at that time.  There were many places mentioned with which I am familiar due to my travels in Dublin, Belfast, Galway, etc. last year.

What I Didn't Like

Jewish terms and traditions - I don't have much background for these, so there were times I felt left out.  I don't fault the author for that though...I'm just aware once more that there's never an end to the amount of "stuff" I don't know :/ 

The cycle of abuse - the abusers in this story were many times abused themselves, and Henry gives us enough background through their memories that we have a window into their worlds and what makes them "tick."  The institutionalization of unwed mothers and orphans is blown to smithereens in The Whipping Club.

Violence in the name of "our Lord" - there are examples of beatings, punishments in the name of Christ, starving children's ribs broken for stealing bread from the sacristy to teach them not to steal from the Lord.  It made me honestly want to vomit.

Brother Ryder - a sociopath with power...I don't know what else to say.

Sister Paulinas - mean old biddy...probably married to the Devil...I also can't say much more will squint your eyes more than once as your blood boils over what this woman says to those in her charge, both adults and children.

I was reminded of 

The Cider House Rules by John Irving - characters who try to do the right thing amidst a wholly imperfect and backwards seeming world...unwed mothers.

So L.A. by Bridgette Hoida (Marian at times reminded me of Mags...I wanted to slap her for having such a bad attitude about Ben in the beginning...I've never given up a child though and she certainly had reason to be unhappy with life).  I grew to understand her more as the story deepened, even her quiet always tired times.  Henry lets the reader get to know Adrian just enough to literally feel her loss.

Annie - specifically Mrs. Hanagan - orphans and evil keepers, overseers, guards, etc.

The Deep End of the Ocean by Jaqueline Mitchard - the once lost child trying to re-integrate into the family, the hurt left over from the loss, the disruption of the family, the jealousy, the guilt, the sibling issues.  

Overall Recommendation

If you are a mother, read this.  If you are not a mother, read this.  If you have any interest at all in the atrocities lived by young women, children without parents, double standards, law, the church, etc, read this.
If you enjoy the power of a family struggling to hold themselves together for the sake of its most at risk link while at the same time trying to hold each other together individually, you need to read this.
 You know what, just read this.

About the Author

Deborah Henry's Website and  Twitter

Other Stops on the Tour

Tuesday, September 4th: The Lost Entwife
Wednesday, September 5th: Reading Lark
Thursday, September 6th: Life in Review
Tuesday, September 11th: Broken Teepee
Wednesday, September 12th: Bibliophiliac
Thursday, September 13th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Monday, September 17th: Mom in Love With Fiction
Wednesday, September 19th: Peeking Between the Pages
Thursday, September 20th: missris
Friday, September 21st: Peppermint PhD
Monday, September 24th: she treads softly
Tuesday, September 25th: A Book Geek
Thursday, September 27th: Book Addiction


  1. Hello!
    I am here for "quick reads". You know how I read all of your recent book reviews, and pretend that I have read the entire book! Ha!
    Actually, Jimmy and I are going out of town (alone---no kids) for 5 days. I plan to take The Count Of Monte Cristo to finish (over halfway done---have not had a chance to finish since we got home from the beach), and then I am going to pick one the books you have blogged about to read next.

    Thanks, as always, for the book reviews!

    I am sorry about your college student. Death always puts things into perspective. I just pray that everyone touched by his life will learn the lesson of the brevity of life. We all need to be reminded of that. And then live appropriately.

    Technical difficulties with blackboard have STRESSED ME OUT!

    Have a good weekend.


    1. So happy that you and Jimmy have some together time coming...those times, few and far between, are most precious. I'm ready to switch over to some classic reading for fall as well; I think I'm going to return to Jane Eyre to start with; have you ever read it?
      I had my own little scare this past week as well as dealing with our student's death. I'll blog more about it this week. I'm reminded daily of the importance of living our lives in a positive way and cherishing those we love the most every. single. day.
      Blackboard has been smooth this past week for us, but when it is down, it is one headache after another. I've heard talk of switching to another platform in a year or so; the entire state will switch if that happens, so just about the time we get Blackboard figured out, we'll get to learn a new one!! Positive thinking right? ;)

  2. I love to read about the places we visit too. This book sounds like a must read!!

  3. I thought I had a copy of this one, I am thinking no now. I swear, I cannot keep track. I know I requested it but I guess I never noticed that it never came.

    She reminds you of Mags, huh? Makes me want to read it.

  4. I'm glad to see that you'll be keeping this one for your special bookshelf in spite of the dark and troubling plot!

    Thanks for being on the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.