If you’ve never heard of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries, I would suggest googling them before reading this book. The subject is difficult and rage-inducing (to think people could treat each other like that!) but these were indeed true places.
I first heard about the laundries through the movie “The Magdalene Sisters,” which would be a good companion to this book for those who want to learn more. The laundries were places for “fallen women” to go in very Catholic Ireland, where they were treated as prisoners, doing heavy manual labor under the Watch of often cruel nuns, and they could not be released until, generally, a male family member came to retrieve them. Many were only released through death.
“The Magdelen Girls” depicts one of these places, The Sisters of Divine Redemption, in a very real and powerful way. Set in the 1960s, the book follows three girls who find themselves given over to the nuns by their families for various offenses, including “seduction,” and just generally not being useful around the house. Seriously.
The book is a bit depressing because – as in the movie I mentioned – even when the women are rescued – they often feel empty, betrayed, hopeless, etc. Happy endings are few and far between here. And this book is also light on them.
In specific terms, the book also doesn’t add much to the understanding of the places, so I would recommend it mostly for people new to the subject. It’s also pretty unresolved in the end. I don’t want to give too many spoilers, but things aren’t completed in the end. As was the case in real life, some of the girls are “out” but some aren’t, and the nuns go unpunished. It just, is.
So, if this is a subject which interests you, I would pick this book up. But if you’re well-versed in the subject, and are looking for more of a detailed account, I would recommend some of the memoirs that are out there.
Either way, I’m glad that the memory of what these women went through isn’t forgotten.