Friday, October 31, 2014

THE CEPHALOPOD COFFEEHOUSE: PHILOMENA

Gentle Readers . . . and Maxwell,

It's time for this month's Cephalopod Coffeehouse.

The idea is simple: on the last Friday of each month, post about the best book you've finished over the past month while visiting other bloggers doing the same.  In this way, we'll all have the opportunity to share our thoughts with other enthusiastic readers.

To join us or to visit other participants, please click on The Armchair Squid, the blogger who is the host with the most. Here we go:


I love the movie Philomena, which I reviewed HERE. I think Dame Judi Dench should have won the Academy Award for Best Actress. 

When I watched the movie, I hadn't yet read the book on which it is based. I'm glad I did. The book is very different from the movie.

Philomena the movie focuses on Philomena's relationship with journalist Martin Sixsmith, who discovers what happened to Philomena's son, born in 1952, who was taken from her and given up for adoption by nuns in Ireland who kept unmarried pregnant girls as their slaves.

Philomena the book, by the aforementioned Martin Sixsmith, includes information about Philomena and the loss of her child, but it zones in on what happened to her son, Anthony, who was adopted by Americans (or should I say purchased?), and had his name changed to Michael Hess. The Hess's took Anthony/Michael because they were adopting a little girl named Mary, who was Michael's best friend. Their prospective mother could see that Michael comforted Mary and made her happy.


Michael and Mary when they were adopted.


Michael doesn't seem to have had a very happy childhood with the Hess family. His new brothers teased and belittled him. His adoptive parents were such dolts that they couldn't figure out why Mary spoke only in "gibberish," which Michael translated. It took a visit by an Irish priest to explain that the children spoke Gaelic. 

This book is my favorite for the month of October because I learned so much about Michael and Mary Hess and their lives in the U.S. I am troubled, however, by Sixsmith's recreations of conversations and his descriptions of Michael's feelings. Yes, he has sources, but the book has no notes nor citations. 

I learned undisputably that Michael Hess grew up to be very intelligent. He became a lawyer for The Republican National Committee. He was gay, and he died from AIDS.



Michael Hess as a lawyer for The Republican National Committee.
Note his high forehead.
It's the result of forceps used to pull him from his mother's body.
He was a breech birth, delivered by a nun.
No doctor was in attendance, and Philomena was given no pain reliever then,
nor when her child was sold.

Knowing the few facts I've included in the above caption should be enough to make one curious about this book. And that's why I like it. It satisfies my curiosity about the story behind the movie:

The morning shift in the laundry lasted until a short lunch break, when the mothers were allowed to see their children. Another shift followed and evenings were spent in cleaning and chores around the building. The hour after dinner was set aside for knitting and sewing. The girls had to make the clothes their children wore, and many became accomplished seamstresses. There were no radios or books, but the girls were allowed to sit in the nursery with their babies or in the day room with those who were already toddlers. It was this hour––the time they looked forward to most--which brought the girls close to their children and established the bond that would haunt mother and child for the rest of their lives. To allow such love to blossom seemed crueller even than taking the babies away at birth.

This passage demonstrates Martin Sixsmith's sympathy for his subject. He also helps to expose a practice in Ireland that had gone on far too long and didn't end very many years ago; that is, sending unmarried, pregnant girls to convents and then selling their babies to Americans who wanted to adopt them, followed by the nuns' refusal to tell mothers where their children were, and their refusal to tell the adopted adults who returned whence they came. Michael Hess visited the nuns more than once, and was never told that his mother was looking for him.

Philomena, in spite of its flaws, earns The Janie Junebug Seal of Highest Approval.


Infinities of love,

Janie Junebug



Martin Sixsmith and Philomena Lee at the premier of the movie,
Philomena.


 

64 comments:

  1. Hi Janie - Philomena is a very good movie .. but more importantly it's exposed so much - and finally people are taking note of the iniquities of life at that stage ... I'm glad you're recommending it to everyone - the book I need to read too ... very good choice - cheers Hilary

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    1. Thank you, Hilary. I'm sure you'll find the book interesting.

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  2. Ugly truths are brought to light in Philomena. They shock and depress me but at the same time arouse my curiosity and I want to know the full story. Both the film and the book have been added to my list. Thank you, dear Janie. Happy Halloween and have a fine weekend.

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    1. I think it's better to know than to ignore this abuse.

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  3. That's a great idea. The only problem is that I've been reading book 3 of Game of Thrones for the last month. I love what I've read, but it takes me a while to get through them.

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    1. I haven't read any of those books, nor have I watched the show. Or is it movies? I know Game of Thrones has a lot of fans.

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  4. Strange how some books are better than the movie. And vice versa. I know I'm in the minority, but I liked the Harry Potter movies better than the books.

    I recognized the title, Philomena, but I didn't know it was a book first. Cool.

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    1. I wouldn't say the book is better than the movie, nor that the movie is better than the book. They are two different animals.

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  5. I don't usually go for non-fiction (Unless it's history or research), but this book sounds interesting, albeit very sad. What a horrible practice! And where were the souls of those nuns? They must've lost them to be so cruel.

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    1. Some of the nuns were kind. One in particular offered friendship to Philomena. As for the rest, I think of it as a case of power corrupting people.

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  6. Whoa! That's an amazing story. I'm getting this book for a friend, for sure.
    Veronica

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  7. Wonderful review! I loved the movie, too. Must check out the book.

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    1. Thank you. I like seeing the differences between the book and the movie.

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  8. What a heart-breaking story! Wow. Can you even imagine? There are so many cruel things that happen in this world. I sometimes wonder how people survive crazy loss like that.

    Unleashing the Dreamworld

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    1. I think Philomena survived by suppressing her feelings. She didn't tell anyone what had happened for many years, and then she finally told her daughter, Jane.

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  9. It's a shame all that went on in Ireland. This sounds like a fascinating story, and those are some interesting facts you included in the caption.

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  10. I have never heard of the movie but at times I seem to live under a rock.............lol

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    1. I live under a rock when it comes to the news. If something important happens, Willy Dunne Wooters tells me, or The Hurricane emails me.

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  11. Hi JJ! I haven't seen the movie or read the book, but I have played this song (Joni Mitchell's "Magdalene Laundries": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwgTSC-stIM ) hundreds of times. Now I have to go get the book! And watch for the movie to see if it comes up on our free movies on Comcast.

    My favorite book this month was "Burial Rites" by Hannah Kent. Powerful and unforgettable. Closely followed by "Unbroken"by Laura Hillenbrand. So many great books, so little time. :(

    Have a good weekend!

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    1. I'd never heard the Joni Mitchell song before. It's haunting. The last of the laundries closed in 1996. I read a book by Laura Hillenbrand, but I can't remember the title.

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  12. This post didn't show up in my reader . . . I liked the movie. I also like seeing the pic of the real Phlilomena. Nice review.

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    1. Thanks. Sometimes I visit bloggers who have a list of the blogs they follow. I've noticed that the title of my post is usually the one from the day before.

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  13. It's quite an amazing story.

    Not to make light, but I'm always shocked to learn there are gay Republicans!

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    1. Plenty of Republicans are gay, and they're usually the ones who speak out against homosexuality the most harshly. Michael Hess's friends knew he was gay. Some of his co-workers knew, but he tried to keep it a secret.

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  14. I really enjoyed the movie much more than I thought I would, but I don't want to read the book; it would make me way too mad.

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    1. It didn't make me angry. It's sad, but I was glad Philomena found out what happened to her son and didn't have to live with the uncertainty anymore.

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  15. This is one that I did not realize was a book. I loved the movie!

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    1. The book has so much information that's not in the movie, but if the movie covered everything it would go on for hours.

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  16. Wow! Thanks for the info on this book and movie - definitely something i want to check out!
    I'm usually not a fan of mysteries, and i read very little fiction, but I just finished W. Bruce Cameron's new book "Midnight Plan of the Repo Man" and thought it was great: funny, self-effacing, a page-turner. Finished it in two days.

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    1. I don't care for mysteries, either. I always know "who done it" by page twelve, but I'm glad you enjoyed this one.

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  17. How interesting that the movie and the book are so very different. It was a of the times that these terrible things happened to women and children and I'm sure if it there was more media attention at that time as there is now with the social networking sites things might have been very different for the people involved.

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    1. I suspect the movie is different because A. for the most part, Hollywood avoids movies that focus on gay people, and B. focusing on the relationship between Martin and Philomena brought some humor to a very sad story.

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  18. Yes, I'm very much interested in this story and movie.
    Thanks for the share, JJ and Armchair Squid.
    xoRobyn

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    1. Thanks, Robyn. Always a pleasure to hear from you.

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  19. I had not heard of Philomena before but I ordered both the book & the movie. Would you suggest I read or view first?

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  20. Heartbreaking story, but I'm curious to read the book. Thanks Janie!

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    1. I think we need heartbreaking stories so we know we have hearts.

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  21. Hi Janie,
    I loved the film but have yet to read the book. It is now going on my list. XXXX

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    1. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

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    1. Me too. I like the movie better than the book, but I'm not sorry I read the book.

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  23. I've never heard of the book, nor the movie. Then again, I live under a rock, so I haven't heard of most things that aren't funny cat videos on the Internet. But for being non-fiction, this actually sounds pretty fascinating. Sad, but fascinating.

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    1. Those Irish nuns were quite the sadists.

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  24. Hi, Janie...loved the movie, but have not read the book. Maybe I'll try to squeeze it into my reading. I think sometimes the books are changed to be able to put the films in a position to win an award or something, or perhaps the ending isn't as dramatic as the producers would like for it to be. I love Judith Dench!

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    1. By concentrating on the relationship between Philomena and Martin, Judi Dench received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Philomena was also nominated for Best Picture, I think. If the movie had focused on her son and some of the strange things he did, I don't think it would have been as successful.

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  25. I haven't read this book or seen the movie...

    I'm about 3/4 through Gone Girl...so far I've predicted everything that's happened. If you've read it don't tell me how it ends. Seriously. My ex ruined Terminator 2 for me and I never got over it. Thus, the ex.

    -andi

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    1. I haven't read Gone Girl, but I know how it ends because I read a review of the movie. I will not tell you how Gone Girl, nor anything else, ends. Willy Dunne Wooters is asleep in the chair next to me. He's snoring so loud he sounds like a chainsaw. Does Philly snore?

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  26. I've never even heard of that movie. I'm going to have to check it out!

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    1. It received some Academy Award nominations. Every years when the nominations are announced, I put all the nominated movies in my Netflix queue.

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  27. I had never heard of the story. I'll have to check it out because you certainly did tell just enough to up my curiosity.

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    1. It's a very strange story. I might do a post one of these days with more information about what the Catholic Church in Ireland did to children.

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  28. I saw the movie. It was terribly upsetting. For years the Catholic Church in Ireland lied about these things, and got away with it.

    Lord, have mercy!

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    1. Plus, they have the pedophile priests. Tragic.

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  29. Next Halloween I'm dressing as an Irish nun.

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  30. The last book I finished was "A Dance With Dragons" in the Game of Thrones series.
    Okay, not terribly sophisticated, but...dragons!

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  31. Okay, now I think MY comment is missing...

    I gotta see this movie.

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    1. And I bet it was the most brilliant comment you've ever written.

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  32. Both the movie and the book sound very interesting. With the focus differences in the two, it almost sounds as though a second movie could be made to cover the stories of Michael and Mary in America. Great review!

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    1. A movie could be made about Michael and Mary in America, but I don't picture it happening. Hollywood avoids most gay-themed movies, and Michael Hess was into some strange stuff, according to Martin Sixsmith. Of course, the movie could dance around that aspect of his life.

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