Book Review: The Magdalen Girls by V.S. Alexander

Kindle Edition, 305 pagesPublished December 27th 2016 by Kensington

About the story:

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.

Told with candor, compassion, and vivid historical detail, The Magdalen Girls is a masterfully written novel of life within the era’s notorious institutions—and an inspiring story of friendship, hope, and unyielding courage. 

A few of my thoughts:

Recently I discovered that my family has ancestry in Dublin Ireland and this book came to my mind. Strange how the mind works. I requested, “The Magdalen Girls” to review some time ago and to be honest, I’m not sure why I chose it because it wasn’t a subject, I was ready-mentally-to look in-depth. The Catholic Church has an extremely dark history and I don’t believe their theology/doctrine is entirely in line with the Holy Bible.

The story introduces three young girls, Teagan, Nora and Lea. Leading up to the moment Teagan and Nora were cast out of their homes and into the “care” of The Sister of the Holy Redemption. The cruelty of Mother Ann and the Nuns who carries out her orders is a clear reflection of the abuse, neglect, death, exploitation and forced, cruel hard labor that are not the teachings of Christ. These young girls’ situation there and of the others, lay heavily on my mind.

There are two priest that are front and center to Teagan’s “down fall”. Father Mark and Father Matthew. In short, I found Father Matthew not living up to his higher responsibility that God has commanded and instead he seceded the position to a mostly matriarchal attitude that was counterproductive to Christian life. His inability to counsel Father Mark and do right by the situation at hand really reflects my opinion above. They laid full responsibility of Mark’s sin on Teagan. That is not Christ like.

My main focus of this review is Tegan’s downfall because of the bold example the author shows of how the Priests influence its congregation and community. My focus on Teagan’s story- in no way- diminishes the others girls experience in that toxic environment.

I would have liked to have read a better build-up of the girl’s life before they entered, The Sister of the Holy Redemption. Other than that, it was a powerful premise, though a sad one.

Was there redemption in the story for the girls? That is for you to find out by reading the story.

I rated this book three stars and obtained a galley copy from the publishers through NetGalley.

Stephanie Hopkins

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Magdalen Girls by V.S. Alexander

  1. I was living in Dublin in the late 1990s when the whole thing about the sexual abuse by “the Religious” (the Catholic Priests and Nuns) came out along with the whole thing about the Laundries (look up Tuam for additional context). It was heartbreaking. The sense of betrayal by the Church (I grew up Catholic myself) was palpable. Due to the influence in every aspect of people’s lives, there would have been no “downfall” on behalf of Teagan, simply a “you didnt do what I told you too” by a priest (this would go from “you sneezed in the wrong kerchief” to “you had your period on the wrong day” to “you had sex (you whore!) with someone we did not approve of”. W
    elcome to Irish Catholic Church circa 1990s. Yes, I have problems. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing your knowledge of the subject and experiences! There are many different Christian denominations that have dark history-even recent problems-and though I know it is not a reflection on Christian life or Christ., I can see why so many would be hesitate to join these churches, I will definitely look up Tuam! When I heard about the mass grave I thought I was going to have a panic attack. How heart breaking.

      Liked by 1 person

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