It’s nearly 8pm on this chilly Monday night, and I was debating whether to wait until next weekend to write a post about last week’s and this week’s books, but I thought it would be best to write a quick post now while my book club discussion is fresh in my mind.
My Volunteer Book Club met on Saturday to discuss The Foundling by Ann Leary, and it was certainly a lively discussion. This novel, based on the author’s research into her grandmother’s past, is set in 1927 and is told from the point of view of Mary, a seventeen-year-old typist who manages to escape an unhappy home shared with her aunt and secure a good job at the remote Nettleton Home for Feebleminded Women of Childbearing Years, where she works in an office typing letters and minutes for the ever-impressive Dr Agnes Vogel, the only woman in her medical school class and one of the only women to graduate with a medical degree. Mary is suitably impressed with Dr Vogel, which may go a long way in explaining Mary’s naiveté while working at Nettleton, where women of childbearing years who are seen to be feebleminded (or sometimes just troublesome) are kept until they reach menopause in order to keep them from bearing children, a form of eugenics that was quite widely practiced and was very popular in the 1920s. Of course, we the readers understand that this is not ok, and we recognize the propaganda and hidden agendas right from the start, but in order to truly appreciate the story, we also have to remember a) who is narrating and b) what time period this novel is set in. That this novel is based on real events is frightening enough, but as I was looking up further information before the meeting on Saturday morning, I found myself falling down, down, down the rabbit hole of unbelievable yet true articles about these “homes for the ‘feebleminded’”, the assessment of which was, of course, mainly carried out and determined by men. We all found it fascinating and horrific, and one member said she’s discovered many unsavoury things about our country’s past (yes, Canada is guilty of this, too) since joining the book club (sorry!!). One of the members who listened to this as an audiobook said she lost track of the number of times she wanted to shake her head and sigh “Oh, Mary”. Yes, Mary was naive, which was incredibly frustrating, but as we further considered her past and her actions leading to the ending, we wondered how innocent and naive she really was. We discussed the egomania and greed of Dr Vogel, the friendship between Mary and Lillian, and the complex relationship between Mary and Jake. Several members were surprised with Mary’s decisions near the end and the conclusion of the book. It was a great book club choice and I think we’re all glad we read it. I would highly recommend it if you’re looking for a good book that is based on historical events.
That’s all for tonight.Bye for now…