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.~Goodreads Blurb
There will always be people who will use their authority over people and their faith to take advantage. In every religion there are bad people. Rarely has it on par with the Catholic Church and the Magdalen Laundries. Following the interest sparked by the film “Philomena” and similar documentaries, author V.S Alexander has attempted to bring some more understanding through historical fiction. Giving us three young girls to see their world through, we watch as they adapt and try to hold on to their sense of self in a religious prison that will do all it can to save their souls, whether they need saving or not.
Of course with a tough subject as religion and the trust given to authorities of faith, there were bound to be moments that rubbed the wrong way. The idea that the blame falls on the girl for tempting a priest instead of berating the priest for having impure thoughts, causes me to grind my teeth. Many of these girls, historically, were sent to the laundries for many different reasons. Some were seen as fallen women, while others had nowhere else to go and no one who really wanted them. It is not a system to which I have ever understood, nor would I survive in such a place. One of the few things that I found difficult about these book is the story line of Sister Anne. A fiendish woman who enjoys the release pain grants her and enjoys inflicting pain on others under the guise of saving them. There were far too many pages wasted on trying to redeem her in the eyes of the readers. She did not need to be given a redemption arc. I also felt that parts of the story were tempered down in order to not upset readers. It seems a very open-shut view of a very complex problem. I would offer this up as a light read about a very serious subject, almost on a young adult level.