A young Irish girl’s life is turned upside down when she becomes pregnant and is sent to an infamous Magdalen laundry.
O’Farrell (Kitty’s Hive, 2013) tells the moving story of Roisin Keavney, a girl living in a poor town in western Ireland during the 1930s. Roisin loves her family, but she daydreams of marrying into a better life. When she meets the mysterious older Tom McCafferty on a visit to the seashore, Roisin is wholly infatuated. Unfortunately, she becomes pregnant. Tom abandons her, and her family sends her to a Dublin reformatory, essentially a workhouse, known as a Magdalen laundry. There, she must find a way to endure extreme hardship and cruelty and try to reshape her dreams. O’Farrell is a sure writer, sketching the details of the time and place vividly. The stark contrasts of Roisin’s experiences—between her tiny Irish hometown and the bustling city of Dublin and between the love of her family and the horrific treatment at the laundry—are delivered in spare, heart-rending prose. The predictability of the plot is mitigated by the fully drawn characters—Roisin herself; Sean, her most sympathetic sibling; and Aine, her closest friend at the laundry. Though Roisin may survive the laundry, she is not quite unscathed; she continually reminds herself that “she must learn to accept it all, to offer it all up, wasn’t it her own fault she was here? This was God’s way of punishing her.” O’Farrell ends the novel with a transcript of Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s 2013 apology for the Magdalen laundries on behalf of the Irish State.
An affecting, disturbing but ultimately redemptive novel.