Book Review: The Whipping Club

The Whipping Club
Published by: T.S. Poetry Press
Publication Date: February 15, 2012
Page Count: 345
Source: Kindly Provided by Publisher for TLC Book Tours
Audience: Adult - Historical Fiction

I have long been enamored with the Emerald Isle. Countless daydreams of visiting Ireland have littered my thoughts since childhood. I can't seem to get enough of the magic and lore. I typically jump at the chance to read any book connected to Ireland which is what inspired my choice to accept a spot on this tour.

The Whipping Club is a sweeping historical fiction that spans two generations and showcases the harsh conditions of the Irish Industrial school system. Deborah Henry also uses the novel as a vehicle to discuss religious discrimination and mixed faith relationships. There are so many thought provoking moments that litter this text, but the emotional impact can be quite taxing. To truly enjoy novels such as this one I have to be in the right frame of mind. While I can see the many merits of this novel, it was a hard one for me to get through. My heart broke on more than one occasion and the last sentence didn't deliver a sense of emotional closure.

Henry's writing is stellar and supported by the depth of her historical research. I did enjoy this one, but it was hard for me to love when it was so tragic. As a historian, I appreciate this novel and hope to return to it one day when I am in a more appropriate frame of mind. My heart just couldn't get past itself to let my brain revel in the writing. I was saddened and disturbed by the discrimination and abuse that lingered within these pages.

One Last Gripe: I typically read for enjoyment and to escape the stresses of every day life. This novel did not allow me to indulge in either reason.

My Favorite Thing About This Book: Learning more about a part of Irish history that I was unfamiliar with

First Sentence: Marian spent the morning in Dr. O'Connell's office.

Inspired by her heritage and research of the Irish Industrial School system, Henry’s auspicious debut chronicles a couple’s attempt to save their son from horrific institutions.

Marian McKeever and Ben Ellis are not typical young lovers in 1957 Dublin, Ireland; she’s Catholic and teaches at Zion School, and he’s Jewish and a budding journalist. The two plan to wed, but their families object to an interfaith marriage. And when Marian becomes pregnant, she doesn’t tell Ben. Coerced by Father Brennan (a Catholic priest who is also her uncle), Marian goes to Castleboro Mother Baby Home, an institution ruled by Sister Paulinas and Sister Agnes where “sins are purged” via abuse; i.e., pregnant girls are forced to mow the lawn by pulling grass on their hands and knees. Marian is told that her son, Adrian, will be adopted by an American family. The riveting storyline provides many surprises as it fast-forwards to 1967 where Marian and Ben are married and have a 10-year-old daughter. Marian’s painful secret emerges when she learns that her son was dumped in an abusive orphanage not far from her middle-class home and Sister Agnes is his legal guardian. Thus begins a labyrinthine journey through red tape as the couple fight to regain their firstborn child. Ultimately, 12-year-old Adrian is placed in the Surtane Industrial School for Boys, which is rife with brutality and sexual abuse at the hands of “Christian Brother Ryder.” Though unchecked church power abounds, this is not a religious stereotype or an indictment of faith. Hateful characters like Brother Ryder are balanced with compassionate ones, such as a timid nurse from the Mother Baby Home. Father Brennan deepens into a three-dimensional character who struggles to do what is right. Henry weaves multilayered themes of prejudice, corruption and redemption with an authentic voice and swift, seamless dialogue. Her prose is engaging, and light poetic touches add immediacy. For example, when Marian returned to Mother Baby Home after 11 years, she “opened the car door and stepped onto the gravel, wanting to quiet its crunch, like skeletons underneath her shoes.” Echoing the painful lessons of the Jewish Holocaust, Henry’s tale reveals what happens when good people remain silent.

A powerful saga of love and survival.

About the Author:

Deborah Henry attended American College in Paris and graduated cum laude from Boston University with a minor in French language and literature. She received her MFA at Fairfield University. She is an active member of The Academy of American Poets, a Board member of Cavankerry Press and a patron of the Irish Arts Center in New York.
Curious about the duality of her own Jewish/Irish heritage, Henry was inspired to examine the territory of interfaith marriage and in so doing was led to the subject of the Irish Industrial School system. She has traveled to Ireland where she has done extensive research and interviews, including those with Mary Raftery (States of Fear documentary filmmaker and co-author of Suffer the Little Children) and Mike Milotte (award-winning journalist), as well as first-hand reports from the survivors of the Magdalene Laundries, Mother Baby Homes, Orphanages and the Industrial Schools.
Her first short story was published by The Copperfield Review, was a historical fiction finalist for Solander Magazine of The Historical Novel Society and was longlisted in the 2009/10 Fish Short Story Prize.
The Whipping Club is her first novel. She lives in Fairfield, Connecticut with her husband and their three children. She is currently at work on her next book.
Check out the Other Great Blogs on this Tour:
Tuesday, September 4th: The Lost Entwife 
Wednesday, September 5th: Reading Lark 
Thursday, September 6th: Life in Review 
Friday, September 7th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books 
Monday, September 10th: An Unconventional Librarian 
Tuesday, September 11th: Broken Teepee 
Wednesday, September 12th: Bibliophiliac 
Thursday, September 13th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf 
Monday, September 17th: Mom in Love With Fiction 
Tuesday, September 18th: A Soul Unsung 
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. Heavy topics seem to abound in this story. I can see how it wouldn't be an easy read.

    Thanks for being on the tour.

  2. Family sagas are probably my favorites and historical fiction right up there as well, so I really liked this one. Like you, I certainly didn't like the subject matter, but the emotion with which Henry writes really pulled me in. There was no easy answer for Adrian and I appreciate an author who doesn't try to fix everything in the end. :)


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