Book Review: Philomena – Martin Sixsmith

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After being made into a film starring Judi Dench I had to hunt down the book before seeing the movie, which I try and do every time. The book follows Philomena and her search for the son she was forced to give up as an unmarried mother in Ireland in the 1950s. The novel starts with Philomena’s violent labour, through the eyes of a young nun. The novel then follows her and her young son, Anthony through their time at the nunnery. The novel outlines her horrific conditions young women in Ireland in the 1950s faced, the worst being forced to sign a legal document stating that they will never contact their children again, despite bonding with them for three years. The savage beatings from horrific nuns and at times not being told as your child is simply taken away from you. The scandal of children being sold to Americans could have also been handled better. The novel does have a few unclear perspective changes I warn you, I got terribly confused at points.

I felt quite uncomfortable reading from what was supposed to be Michael’s perspective, because it really isn’t.  I don’t feel like we really get either perspective, Michaels or Philomena’s, the book is mostly guesswork from the author’s idea of what happened and the memories of others. We will never know what was really felt by Michael and I wonder if we can really appreciate his story in this manner. We will never know how he felt in his relationships with his adopted family, nor will we really know how he felt being a secretive gay man in the republican party at the height of the AIDS scare in the United States.

I desperately wanted to know more about what Philomena does after she leaves the nunnery. As fascinating as Michael’s story was I wanted to know more about the woman who had her heart broken, we are simply left to wonder and don’t meet her again for years. Apparently the book is also called The Lost child of Philomena Lee a much more fitting title than the one currently given because the book only really focuses on Michael’s life. I couldn’t help but notice throughout the novel the awful impression that religion leaves on both mother and son and the lasting effects on both of them.

I give this 3 stars simply because I got very bored with it. It wasn’t really a page turner and I could quite easily put it down and walk away from it. I felt like it was largely based on stereotypes and not always on fact, possibly due to the fact that a large part of the book was trying to put the pieces together. The ending was also a little disappointing and I’m hoping that the film version could possibly bring the story to life.

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