Seldom have I read such a gripping story – The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith (later restyled Philomena after the film adaptation) is a gem through and through! Even if you’ve seen the movie, the novel is a must-read.
Philomena is the true story of an Irish girl, Philomena Lee, who is sent to a convent after becoming pregnant by accident in staunch Catholic Ireland. At a loss and estranged from her family, Philomena is forced to give up her son for adoption, as are many of the other girls she ends up with at the nunnery in order to spare their families shame.
Anthony – Philomena’s son – grows up in the convent with his mother for three years of his life until he and another girl are adopted by a wealthy American family. Totally uprooted and separated from their mothers, the two children struggle to fit into this new American family made up of a strict doctor and a loving housewife.
The two children are raised in the Catholic religion, grow up with fading memories of their native Ireland, and become full American citizens. Anthony turns out to be a very sensible and clever boy with excellent school results that allow him to graduate and enrol in the Ivy League. Versed in politics, Anthony studies law and politics in order to embrace a political career.
On a more personal level, devout Anthony is beset by guilt and shame as he tries to dismiss his homosexual leanings. He needs to overcome guilt and come to terms with his sexual identity, which is still hidden and hushed over. Little by little, Anthony manages to combine his promising career with his secretive private life, until fate deals one of its blows.
The storyline is perfect and truths are told as they should be – without any frills. Everything is told as candidly as possible without any judgement being passed by the narrator. Every aspect of Anthony’s growing up gets explored while following the intricacies of his mind, which makes the reader understand Anthony’s complex psychology better.
However, the only snag is that his relationship with his adopted family – and sister – is overlooked and deserves further elaboration. Indeed, his new life in DC takes centerstage and his father, brothers and sisters are ignored as a result.
But despite this minor gripe, I loved this book. Its honest and straightforward writing style, plus the enthralling story it tells, makes it very special indeed. So grab the novel and be prepared to be overwhelmed by a wide array of emotions.