Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Review: The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran

Henry Oades
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.

Rating: 4/5
Things You Might Want to Know: Brief strong language
Source of Book: Received from publisher for TLC Blog Tour
Publisher: Ballantine Books (Random House)



Carrie K. said...

Hmmm, now I really want to read it soon to see if it makes me feel the same way!

bermudaonion said...

This sounds like it's a thought provoking books despite its problems. Great review, Amy!

Beth F said...

Just skimmed -- you know me: can't read the review until I've read the book. :)

Jennifer @ Mrs. Q: Book Addict said...

I have this one on my wishlist, and it seems like a book I will love. Great review!

Unknown said...

I'm on the tour for next week. I liked the story, and felt badly for Henry. He was so devastated when they disappeared, and then so befuddled when they returned.
I appreciated that he was loyal to Nancy, but they weren't in love at the time of their marriage or the time Margaret showed up, so I thought his continuing to live as a married couple w/ Nancy was wrong and made things more complicated.
I wondered about Margaret not seeming as traumatized as I thought she'd be. Maybe she had just reached that "got to go on" point. Or maybe as a mother she kept going to keep her children going. HMM

Darlene said...

Glad to see you liked this one. I've got it coming up in the next couple of weeks for the tour but haven't started it yet.

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

I'm #5 on the HOLDS list at the library for this one. Glad to know it will be worth the wait.

Anonymous said...

This story sounds so perfect for discussion in a book club, esp. after reading Elizabeth's comment..

Great review, Amy! Thanks so much for being on the tour. We really appreciate all the time and energy you put into reading and reviewing this book. I'm glad you liked it!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

This book is on my TBR shelf - did you read the guest post at Beth Fish Reads today? Very interesting story behind why Moran wrote the book.

Your last paragraph is what will push HENRY OADES from my bookcase to my nightstand; a mother's actions/motivations always interest me.

Beth F said...

Oh, I hope you did read the guest post. I asked her talk about that subject because I was just fascinated. Thanks to Dawn for mentioning it.

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