Sunday, November 27, 2016

Magdalen Girls by V. S. Alexander

Magdalen Girls by V. S. Alexander, to be publishes December 27, 2016 by Kensington. ISBN ISBN-10: 1496706129 or ISBN-13: 978-1496706126. Paperback, Audio CD or Kindle e/Book.

I had the privilege to read this book for the Amazon Vine program. If you are a frequent reader of my blog, you know I don't consider it a privilege to read a lot of the books from the Vine program as many of the newbie writers just aren't that good. Below is my review of Magdalen Girls.


From the first sentence, I was immersed in this book. The book is based on the true happening at places called Magdalen Laundries. Where girls if they were unwed, too pretty, flirted too much, mentally challenged, etc. were sent to live and work without due process of law. These laundries, many of them attached to convents, were run in silence for the most part, cruel nuns, poor food, poor clothing, inadequate heat and light and no education for girls that were still school age. If one of them somehow managed to escape, the Guard/police (this book taking place in Ireland) would find the girls/women and bring them back. New girls coming to the laundry/convent were placed initially in a penitent’s room. It contained a stool, no windows, no lights, complete blackness while the girl contemplated her 'sins'. Note that for many of the girls, they may have done nothing at all to be sent away, but had been trapped by what others had done to them.
This book covers a little over a year in the life of three of the girls as they managed to make friends with each other. One of the first things they had to give up on admission was their own names and take on the ones assigned to them that were ‘Godlier’ apparently. Then they had to give up their hair as it was chopped short and kept that way. They were given uniforms and aprons to wear with no variation. Monica and Teresa spent every minute they could contemplating escape. Teresa (real name Teagan) is the main character in the book had been caught up in a lie by her parish priest. Monica (Nora) had been caught kissing her boyfriend. Some of the women were 'fallen' in the traditional sense of the word, yet did they deserve a life sentence washing dirty clothes because of it? Remember, these young women were sent here at family’s requests, not by any legal means. They were not released on their coming of legal age birthday, but had to stay there until or if, and it was a very big IF, someone such as a family member came and requested their released.
This was a fascinating story of the inner workings of the inner working of a fictionalized Magdalen Laundry. If you would like more information about them, do an internet search for Magdalen Laundries and I'm sure you will be very surprised. The thing that surprised me the most, was not that this was happening in the 1860's, but the book took place in 1962! the last one closed in 1996. Some women too old to live on their own and with no family left, and after having spent their lives as inmates, are still living at the convents. A movie about this has also been made that can be rented via Amazon. Actual copies seem hard to find and expensive.
Many thoughts came my way as I read this book. The horror of it for one thing; that a girl can be happily be going to high school, starting in with a first boyfriend, and due to circumstances beyond their control find themselves locked away in a place such as these Magdalen Laundries....for the rest of their lives! One of the simple things that I find hard to comprehend while reading this book as well as the fictional Jane Eyre and others like them; was why were the cooks in these places always burning the toast, burning or undercooking the food constantly? Considering that many of these places emphasized frugality, why were they purposely wasting food or making it so terrible that no one would eat it. Wasn't it enough that the people are locked up and their freedom taken away, but they had to eat deliberately spoiled food? Why would any cook worth the name deliberately make food bad as an extra punishment? I talked to my Mennonite cleaning lady about this and she too was appalled at the thought of wasting food in that way by deliberately not cooking it correctly. It takes less effort to make toast without burning it than burning it intentionally.

Lousy food was just one way to poke these girls with a stick. They also were rarely allowed to talk to each other. In this book they slept in a unheated attic garret in winter and with only one window that could be opened in summer until the nuns nailed it shut. And they wore rags. This book, as I had to keep reminding myself, took place in 1962. These were teen aged girls that had grown to like pretty clothes and showing their personality through what they wore and how they did their hair. Not so at the laundries. They wore uniforms with an apron and their hair was kept super short with haircuts every two weeks to keep it that way. No way would or should these girls look desirable to any guy was the apparent reason. The whole idea of these laundries was awful; yet they or similar ones were operated around the world until the 1990's! Who knew?

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