MAGDALENES
Channing Hayden

 


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Writers Choice Press, 1998
Reviewed by Sally Roddom

Sarah Beth LaBranche lives in Louisiana at the turn of the nineteenth century. As a child she regularly listens to her father beat and assault her mother in his drunken rages. As she starts to mature, her father's eye turns to her and Sarah runs away to New Orleans. She quickly falls into the hands of some unscrupulous brothel owners where she is brutally raped by one of the clients - her virginity bringing in a high price. Once her innocence is gone she is thrown out onto the streets where she learns to survive by doing the only thing she now knows - whoring. Eventually she arrives at the point where she feels she can go on no longer and she sits in the gutter contemplating suicide.

From the point of despair she can only go up, and her luck changes at this point. The opportunity comes to improve herself, and with that improvement comes the chance of a change in lifestyle. Reluctant to desert the woman who rescues her, Sarah Beth ends up leading a double life. She meets Frank, a doctor, and soon falls head over heels in love with him. Now Sarah Beth is terrified that Frank will discover the truth about her background.

The character of Sarah Beth grows throughout the book. At the beginning I found it very difficult to understand her dialect, but as her character becomes more educated her speech becomes clearer to understand. A very clever ploy by Channing Hayden to demonstrate the growth of his main character. I really came to care for Sarah Beth, and admire her for rising above everything that was thrown against her. Whilst MAGDALENES is primarily a romance, it also gives an historical insight into the seedy side of New Orleans, and the depravity of humans. There is also a medical subplot in the form of Sarah assisting Frank to find a cure for yellow fever during an epidemic. Channing Hayden has cleverly combined factual people and events with fiction and is not afraid to portray the worst of the underlife of New Orleans using some shocking descriptions. Sarah Beth makes mistakes, but despite all she goes through, she is not a cruel person, and fights for the rights of those who are less fortunate than herself, as she searches for her own place in the world.

June 2006

 

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