Genre: Biography, GLBT
Narrative Style: Journalistic – Third person with occasional first person input from Sixsmith
I’m always a little dubious when someone loans me a book and says I think you’ll really enjoy this. First of all, the book that they then loan me represents something of what they think of me. Always a bit worrying. Secondly, there is the added pressure of whether or not you will actually like it and what they will think if you don’t. My mother in law loaned me this after she had watched the film and then read the book. She did warn me that it was very different from the film but as I hadn’t seen it, it didn’t trouble me much.
However, this book is not only different from the film, it’s different from it’s own blurb. The quotations from reviews on the back of the book suggest it is about a mother’s search her child. It is not.
I enjoyed the opening which described the life of Philomena and the other girls at the convent and what happened to them and the babies born to them. I also enjoyed the descriptions of attempts to stop the scandalous export of babies to the USA. However, after this point Philomena disappears from the story until the very end. I would have liked to know more about how life was for her after she gave away her baby. She isn’t mentioned again until the last chapters where she is dealt with in a cursory fashion.
The rest of the account is focused on Michael, the son she gave away. This story is interesting enough and Michael comes across well. Not only does he struggle with being an orphan but he faces the difficulty of being gay at a time when being open and successful within politics wasn’t possible. The choices he makes often come back to his status as an orphan and his attempts to find his mother add interest.
It doesn’t quite work for me. I’m not even sure why. It may be that a lot of the dialogue seemed stilted, unreal – a bit too exact to quite ring true. And Sixsmith seems a little too fascinated by the darker side of Michael’s personality and sexuality. It is a story viewed from a distance and it seems that Sixsmith felt little emotional connection with Michael. Overall the tone is too journalistic and it was hard to feel personally for the characters.
It seems a bit of a shame – there is definitely a story to be told here. Just not this one, in this way.