The year is 1952, the setting is rural Ireland, and eighteen year old Philomena is unmarried and pregnant. She is sent to live at Sean Ross Abbey, a convent where unwed mothers hide away until they give birth and then spend three years working off their “debt” in the abbey laundry. The women at the abbey – shamed and disparaged – are forced to sign away the rights to their children. The Catholic Church has a lucrative trade in adoptions to parents in the USA and England. After her son is born, Philomena is put to work washing sheets, scrubbing floors and doing other menial labour. She is allowed to spend a precious hour or two per day playing with her child. Eventually Philomena’s son is adopted by an American couple and she spends decades trying to find out what has become of him.
What the Armchair Critics Thought:
It was interesting to note that while discussing this book nearly all of us knew someone with an adoption story. We were surprised that the book was called Philomena because most of it was about Michael. The book is very different from the film and the reader is left wondering about what is going on in Philomena’s life while Michael is growing up and starting to look for her. The theme of abandonment and rejection is clearly portrayed and we talked about the life-long impact of losing a parent at such a young age. The role of the Catholic Church was shocking and the torment that these poor mothers must have gone through after being allowed to bond with their children for three years is beyond belief.