The first thing that came into my mind when I sat down to write a review for “Philomena” by Martin Sixsmith was: it’s not “the poignant true story of a mother and the son she had to give away” as the book is advertised on its cover. Well, the story can indeed be called “poignant” but the meaning of the word is entirely different from the one associated with a mother’s pain over having to give away her child.
The book is supposed to be an account of a mother’s and her son’s search for each other after they were separated by the cruel rules of the government of Ireland. Back in the 50s, unwed mothers were sent to convents where they and their babies were under the supervision of nuns until kids got adopted by American families. Well, I was interested in reading such a story. Especially, since it was announced to be a non-fiction book, based on real people’s lives. I don’t like to be critical, let alone judgemental, but the book couldn’t be further from what’s on its front and back covers.
I understand that after the book was adapted for the screen, and big names starred in the movie, both the author and the publisher had to capitalise on such a success. Still, I find it disrespectful toward readers to place misleading information in places that help customers make their choice when buying a book.
I found only ninety pages out of 450+ of the book worth reading. Absolutely, it is my personal and deeply objective opinion. But these first ninety pages were the reason I bought this book. Part one follows Philomena’s life with the nuns until her son was three before he was taken away to America for adoption. It also covers a little the turbulence that was going on in the political circles over the adoption laws.
Starting from part two and until the very last few pages, the book centres around the life of an extremely – I was trying to come up with a suitable word but couldn’t – unhappy individual, whose problems the author failed to link logically to the fact the man was adopted. Even his mother on those last few pages of the book says that “he had a good life, didn’t he? I could have never given him all of that.” And that’s the truth. Anthony/Michael wasn’t adopted by some horrible, abusive people who wanted to get money from the government by adopting foreign children. On the contrary, they paid a lot of money and went through a lot of trouble to adopt him. And while his adoptive parents weren’t perfect – how many people are? – they gave him a good start in life that helped him “climb the ladder”. As to his complaints about his father’s attitude toward him – I won’t go into details not to give any spoilers – then, it could be argued that what the man did wasn’t what helped his son climb as high as he did.
Overall, the concentration on one of the main character’s life spheres the author, for some reason, felt obliged to pursue, is what put me off the most from the book. I don’t want to believe that detailing of sexual exploits of a person, irrespective of their personal inclinations, is what readers massively look for in books.
The conclusion I came to after reading about the main character’s “adventures”, which led to him hurting every person who truly loved him and whom he claimed to love, was that all that happened to him wasn’t because of the trauma from being separated from his mother at the age of three and being taken across the ocean from him home. The misfortunes befell him – and I say this even under fear of being called unfeeling and cruel – because he wasn’t a good person. The way the author portrayed him made him look like a mean, self-absorbed man who blamed everyone except himself for not even real troubles but for things that didn’t go as he would want them to.