1 review

The Magdalen Girls
by V.S. Alexander

Published: 2016-12-27
Paperback : 304 pages
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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 ...
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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.

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The nuns convened near the doorway like a swarm of black flies. Some giggled with nervous anxiety. Some clutched the crucifix that hung by their side and stared at the three young women who lay supine before them. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

The book is set in Dublin in 1962. What political, cultural and musical changes occurring at that time would have affected the characters?

How does Teagan Tiernan’s relationship with her parents affect the outcome of the story?

Do you think Father Mark should have entered the priesthood considering his background and thoughts about Teagan?

Do you think Teagan left her sweater in the parish house basement on purpose?

How would you describe the differences in home life between Teagan and Nora Craven?

Why would Sister Anne base her punishment of the Magdalens on “love?”

Each of the nuns portrayed in the book has a different set of characteristics. Which one did you find to be most sympathetic to the Magdalens? Besides Sister Anne, which was least sympathetic?

Why do you think Nora’s and Teagan’s escapes from the laundries were doomed to failure?

Father Mark tries to make amends with Teagan. Do you think his apology and offer went far enough?

Teagan leaves Ireland with her Aunt Florence. What do you see in her future?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

“Filled with authentic details… Alexander methodically builds the details of the dreary and demanding existence that has become daily life for these girls who had dreams and ambitions like other 16-year-olds. As the girls' friendship progresses and their desperation to escape grows, the story quickens, racing toward an ending that is both incredibly sad and hopeful. Because the novel is historically accurate (the last Magdalen laundry closed in 1996), the events depicted are particularly distressing, forcing readers to be engrossed and horrified by what the Catholic Church and other secular and religious entities did to rehabilitate "fallen" women, who needed the grace of God to be saved from their sinful lives, no matter how true or untrue.” – Shelf Awareness

“Using the pen name Alexander, author Michael Meeske has clearly done his homework. Chilling in its realism, his work depicts the improprieties long abandoned by the Catholic Church and only recently acknowledged. Fans of the book and film Philomena will want to read this.” – Library Journal

“Set in early 1960s Dublin, Alexander’s first novel chronicles the lives of three teenagers who are sent to live indefinitely as penitents under the watch of occasionally sadistic Catholic Nuns…The Magdalen laundries where Teagan works were infamous for their severe conditions and the inhuman way their girls were treated.” - Publishers Weekly

"A haunting novel that takes the reader into the cruel world of Ireland’s Magdalene laundries and shines a light on yet another notorious institution that somehow survived into the late twentieth century. A real page-turner!” – Ellen Marie Wiseman, author of What She Left Behind

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Member Reviews

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by peg t. (see profile) 02/08/20

  "Boring"by Mary Ann O. (see profile) 05/09/17

Most of the club members found this book informative but boring. A catholic member of the group found the subject matter offensive by using a catholic nunnery as an example but stating at the end of... (read more)

by mare m. (see profile) 10/26/19

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