The book I read was the movie tie-in with a forward written by Judi Dench. I am actually interested in seeing the movie now that I’ve read the book just to see how they made this particular book into a movie (I assume there is a lot of Hollywood embellishments). I say this because, for a book called Philomena, it focuses about 90% of its page space to Anthony Lee/Michael Hess. Which isn’t a bad thing, but I did spend the a day or two wondering if I had somehow purchased a followup book to the original. My actual mistake was buying a book trying to cash in on the name of an Oscar nominated film, the original title was The Lost Child of Philomena Lee which is more accurate.
Philomena is heartbreaking. And 1950s Ireland was a shitty time to be a woman. The book opens in 1952 with Philomena Lee giving birth to her illegitimate son in a convent attic. Her son is a breach delivery but she is not given any drugs to ease the pain because it’s the price she pays for her sin. The arrangement for giving birth in the convent is that you may have your child, but you will constantly be told what a horrible, sinful person you are and you will get your child taken from you. The book leaves Philomena at the convent when her son Anthony (along with his best friend, Mary) is adopted by Marge and Doc Hess and taken to America when he is three years old.
The bulk of Philomena is actually about Anthony (now Michael) growing up with a lot of resentments towards his birth mother, his adoptive parents, the Catholic church and his sexuality. We follow Michael through college and into his career in Washington D.C. where he becomes a big shot lawyer for the Republican party in the late 80s and early 90s. It’s only in the last chapter that we see what Philomena Lee was up to in the years following Michael’s birth. Despite the title being a bit misleading, I enjoyed Philomena for what it was- a biography of Michael Hess.