6 Oct 2021



GENRE ... Non-fiction, Movie picture 

PUBLISHER ... Pan Books


As a teenager in Ireland in 1952, Philomena Lee fell pregnant and was sent to a convent - a 'fallen woman'. For three years after her son was born she cared for him there. then the Church took him away and sold him, like countless others, for adoption in America.

This is the story of Philomena and her search for the son she never stopped loving. It is a tale of lives scarred by hypocrisy and secrecy, a compelling narrative of human love and loss - heartbreaking, yet ultimately redemptive. ... Back Cover Blurb

The New Year of 2004 had come in. ... First Sentence, Prologue

Philomena tried to comfort him, but she was too distraught. She thought in so unfair that the love and affection her child exuded and the tenderness he evoked in others should be the cause of her losing him forever. His heart was so big that he had kisses for everyone - and the kiss he had given to some stranger now seemed to count for more than the sacred bond he shared with his mother. The thought tormented her. Why should another woman have her child, her own flesh, the baby she had borne and loved and cherished? ... Memorable Moment, Pages 76-77

MY THOUGHTS ... Hard not to think of the2013 film Philomena starring Judi Dench in the title role which I saw long before I read this novel by Martin Sixsmith which, originally published in 2009 as The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, was later reissued under the title Philomena after the success of the film 

A case of never judge a book by its cover {which shows Judi Dench in her role as Philomena in the film version} or indeed the misleading back cover blurb which has this as 'the story of Philomena and her search for the son she never stopped loving' as you may well be left feeling bitterly disappointed ... I know I was ... as unlike the film {and contrary to the back cover blurb} this contains only a small {a very small fragment} of Philomena's story; for the main part being a detailed chronicle of the life Michael Hess {Michael Hess being the name given to Philomena's son, Anthony, by his adoptive parents}. 

That aside ...

Given the excruciating amount of time {and nigh on voyeuristic detail} Sixsmith devotes to chronicling Hess' life as a 'not altogether out of the closet' Gay man, his long expose of the life of American gay men in the 70's/80's, the more I read the book the more I thought that one could be forgiven for thinking that Sixsmith was obsessed with Hess' sexuality.

Then of course there's ...

With no acknowledgement in the front of the book, no footnotes, no index, nothing whatsoever to even suggest that either Philomena or Anthony/Michael were interviewed by the author the more I read the book the more I felt that what I was reading was probably not in fact a memoir or a biography but {at best} a work of fiction loosely {very loosely} based on actual events and {at worst} little better than unsubstantiated tittle-tattle; a feeling that wasn't helped by ...

  • The over descriptions. My goodness! Not in my wildest dreams would I have thought so much could be made of a young child having his first taste of a peach {and that's only one example of many} which I can only describe as akin to Sixsmith being like a child who, caught out on a lie, grossly embellishes the details in order to convince you that what they are telling you is the truth.
  • The insight into certain things that Sixsmith could not have been privy to {and nor did he interview anyone who was} contrary to what the book would have us believe. Worse still was him telling the reader what was going in Hess' mind; that he, for example, has Hess feeling shame after engaging in casual sex, that he had him believing {and I quote} "You don't deserve to be happy." "You can't be happy because you don't deserve it.
HOW? How did Sixsmith know these things?

Essentially, disappointed/angry{?} that ...

  • To have re-issued the book under the title Philomena is arguably nothing more than a gimmick to persuade readers that what they are getting is a tie-in into the film
  • At best, what I felt was nothing more than a questionable account of not Philomena's life but her son's and, at worst, a shameless exploitation of one woman's remarkable story. 

George Martin Sixsmith, British author and journalist.

Sixsmith joined the BBC in 1980 where he worked as a foreign correspondent, most notably reporting from Moscow during the end of the Cold War. He also reported from Poland during the Solidarity uprising and was the BBC's Washington correspondent during the election and first presidency of Bill Clinton. He was based in Russia for five years, the US for four, Brussels for four and Poland for three. ... READ MORE


Kelly said...

I remember when the film first came out, but never got around to seeing it. A shame this was such a disappointment, and shame on them for trying to make it seem like a tie-in to the film.

the bookworm said...

I'm sorry this one disappointed. It sounds almost disrespectful on the author's part and it does seem like he did not interview anyone for this.

Nikki - Notes of Life said...

I'm so glad I didn't bother with the book. I've seen the film a couple of times and quite enjoyed it.

nightwingsraven said...

I haven't seen the film. And
I am sorry that this book was
such a disappointment to you.
And keeping all of your objections
against the book in mind.It is
definitely disrespectful of
the author towards Philomena
and her story.
But as always, thank you for
your honest and excellent

Shooting Stars Mag said...

This does seem quite a weird account of a real person's life! Sorry it didn't work for you, and I can definitely see why.