Every once in awhile I'll read a story where a man goes off to war, leaves his wife behind and goes missing in action for a long enough time she thinks he's dead and she starts to go on with her life. Meanwhile, he's actually alive and dreaming of his reunion with her to keep him alive. He comes back and she's gotten remarried or something horrible. These are the worst kinds of stories, they are just so heart shattering.
The Wives of Henry Oades is a little bit like this but the reverse. Henry and Margaret leave England for a great posting and job opportunity for Henry in New Zealand. They already have children, and while there Margaret also has twin girls. But one day, Maori invade their home and kidnap Margaret and her children and take them for slaves. Henry grieves, believes them to be dead, moves to California, and eventually remarries.
Margaret and her children manage to escape, however, and eventually show up in California. What will happen? She is after still legally Henry's wife and has his children. But Henry is in love with his new wife and grieved the loss of Margaret long ago.
This book is very easy to read and really keeps you with it. I think that Moran does an excellent job of creating sympathetic characters. It's hard not to like and admire all of the characters and feel for them in each of their unique situations. I almost think she goes out of her way to make Henry's grief over Margaret and his children huge and almost insurmountable. But having said that..
I just couldn't help but feel really sorry for Margaret! Everything about her life ended up being about Henry, she wouldn't have been in New Zealand if not for him and once in California she felt she had to stay for her children's sake. It just seemed so unfair! And so despite the fact that the characters were sketched sympathetically, I don't think the book delves very deep into what they are feeling...I never felt like I understood very deeply the struggle of finding the man you'd been living for happily living without you, and not to be too frank, but being able to hear everything and know what's going on. And from the Nancy, the second wives' point of view, I think I would have felt much more insecure. So while I appreciated the story and the unusual arrangement the Oades had, it was hard for me to really believe it would all work out so smoothly. The most opposition they faced was from outside of them,, the town that wanted to say they were polygamists. Furthermore, I imagine after living with the Maori and being in slavery for so long, that Margaret and the children would have been suffering from more post-traumatic stress, but it seems they just fit into the life quite well.
I think Moran wanted to focus more on the power of female relationships. In fact, I think her central point is summed up well by this quote early in the book,
"Margaret tried, but she couldn't make him understand an affection forged in a single morning. The small transactions between women, particularly mothers, cannot adequately be explained to a man. Some, like hers with Mrs. Randolph, will bind women for life."
I suppose this book is a good example of the love of mothers and the ability of women to act selflessly in the best interest of their children. I don't know if I would have been able to do the same.
Things You Might Want to Know: Brief strong language
Source of Book: Received from publisher for TLC Blog Tour
Publisher: Ballantine Books (Random House)