Friday, March 23, 2012

The Whipping Club by Deborah Henry

Title: The Whipping Club
Author: Deborah Henry
Publication Date: March 1, 2012
Length: 334 pages

The main character in the Whipping Club, Marian, is a Catholic woman in 1950s Ireland, who gets pregnant before she's married. Her uncle, a priest, convinces her to go to a home where she will carry the baby to term in secrecy, give birth, and give the child away for adoption, hopefully to a nice American home. She agrees to this, even though she's engaged to the Jewish man who impregnated her. After this horrific time in her life, she marries Ben, they have another child, and life goes on, but she never gets over the pain of losing her son, Adrian. When it comes to light that he was not sent to America because he was half-Jewish, and was instead sent to an orphanage in Ireland, Marian and Ben try to get back custody of Adrian. Much pain and suffering ensues.

I really wanted to like this book. It sounded so good, and the reviews I read of it were stellar. Everyone talked about how powerful the story is, and how moving. So, I'm not going to say objectively that this is a bad book, because obviously a lot of people loved it. But I did not like this book.

Through pretty much the whole thing, I had no clue where the plot was going. It meanders about, changing points of view, having the occasional flashback (with no change in voice or anything to let you know that you're now reading about the past). You don't actually see the "whipping club" until approximately 2/3 of the way through the book. I assumed the orphanage was the whipping club, but nope. Just a huge pile of lead up to the actual plot. And some of the points of view didn't really seem to add a whole lot to the story. Take Nurse, for example. First of all, I feel like I don't know this character at all, despite the fact that she does a decent amount of narrating. She might be mentally ill, or maybe just disturbed from working in a horrible orphanage. Some of the things she says and does make no sense, but not even really in a consistent way, and while her story is interesting, it's not really fleshed out, so it's pretty much just a tangent.

As for the horrific subject matter: I already knew that there was abuse in Catholic orphanages. So just telling me that doesn't really impress me. I didn't feel like there was much oomph put into it. Just telling me that a boy has a swollen face from being beaten doesn't make me feel anything more than I would just reading an article on the subject. So I don't really know where people are getting this impression that the book is hard to read because of how powerful it is.

The writing is all right. Like I said, my main complaint was the lack of signal that we're changing times of points of view, which made reading confusing at times. But there's also the occasional line that makes me groan. I kid you not, an angry man was described as being "filled with poisonous venom". Umm, ok. By definition, a poison is something you ingest, and a venom is something that's injected into you, often by a bite. Venom cannot be poisonous. I know this is, like, metaphorical and stuff, but still. Even if venom and poison were the same thing, this phrase would be redundant, so I still wouldn't like it.

1 star. Obviously, judging by other reviews, your mileage may vary.

Full disclosure: Free e-book copy received from the publisher through NetGalley.


  1. Love your honest review. I completely understand where you are coming from. For something to have major impact, I think I have to feel like I'm there or I feel like it made me think of something longer than I would if I had read it in an article. Fab review.

    1. Thanks! I was half expecting angry Whipping Club fans to be my commenters on this one. :) I just really felt that reading about this kind of subject matter should be painful, because it's a painful topic, but it just didn't get there for me.