Ballantine Books - Historical Fiction
Johanna Moran's website
When Henry Oades accepts a job in New Zealand, his wife Margaret is not happy. She and the children will have to leave her parents, her home country and everything they know behind. But, it's an opportunity Henry can't pass up. Despite her misgivings, the family packs up and leaves London for Wellington, New Zealand, where Margaret works hard at enduring and patiently awaits the day her family will return to the home she loves.
Things are going well until a single night of tragedy changes their lives, forever. While Henry is away, the Maori raid their home, leaving their house in cinders, the family gone -- possibly abducted, maybe dead. The single body inside their house could be Margaret or her best friend. Nobody knows. When Henry is unable to find his family, he acknowledges that they must have been killed and moves to Berkeley, California, where he marries a young widow with a brand new baby. He is happy for the first time since his family disappeared . . . then Margaret and the children show up on his doorstep.
I'm going to steal one sentence from the cover blurb: "Narrated primarily by the two Mrs. Oadeses, Johanna Moran's powerful imagining of what happens when Henry and his two wives face prosecution for bigamy explores the intricacies of marriage, the construction of family, and the courage of two remarkable women."
I'm going to let the kitten interview me about this book. Take it away, Fiona.
Fiona: Why did you choose this book, slave -- I mean -- Bookfool?
BF: I'm shallow enough to have chosen it purely based upon the 19th-century New Zealand setting.
Fiona: Did that setting satisfy you? And, what did you do with my jingly ball?
BF: The New Zealand description was somewhat less evocative than expected, but I still liked the general historical feel. Last time I saw your jingly ball, you'd knocked it under the piano bench.
Fiona: Thank you. Were you aware that this book is based on a true bigamy case?
BF: Not till I had the book in my hands. That made it doubly interesting to me.
Fiona: What did you think of the characters?
BF: I thought Henry was a great guy, but maybe a little too much like my husband -- so determined to get ahead in his career that he gave almost no thought to his family's discomfort at being moved to a place where they never ceased to feel like foreigners. Margaret seemed a little angsty at first, but then she had no choice but to toughen up. I think she was my favorite character. Nancy, the second wife, really got on my nerves.
Fiona: What did you think of the storyline?
BF: Fascinating. In fact, I found the story so utterly mesmerizing that I read it in a single day (very unusual for me).
Fiona: Was there anything you disliked about the book?
BF: I was a little bemused by Henry's decision-making. I wanted him to make a different choice of wives -- when the time came for him to decide which woman he still considered his legal and moral wife, that is. That's just dickering about the storyline, though. It is what it is. One thing I disliked about the book was that it was sometimes heinously graphic. There were some bits I wish the author had tiptoed around a bit because they were gory or disgusting.
And, I recall wishing the author would just give poor Margaret a break. Her life was one endless stream of awful. It would have also been nice if Margaret had given Henry a butt-kicking, a time or two. I suppose one could say the bits of angst on the sides of both women may have been more authentic to the times than a lot of the current "tough heroine" attitudes we're accustomed to, but sometimes the women were really tiresome.
Fiona: Pardon me while I wash my ears.
BF: Awwww. That's so cute!
Fiona: Thank you. I feel so much cleaner. How would you rate this book?
BF: 4/5 - Excellent reading, lovely writing, well-paced and gripping. There were some minor things I disliked about the The Wives of Henry Oades (particularly the yucky bits), although I thought there were times it needed to be graphic to show the horror of each situation. In general, I was so captured by the story that I would feel wrong giving it anything less than a 4/5 or a "B" rating.
And, you get an "A" for those pink toes. Thank you, Fiona, for taking the time out of your busy napping and laser-chasing schedule to interview me.
BF: Must go play with the kitty. Many wahoos to all!
My copy of The Wives of Henry Oades is an ARC that I received from the publisher. Many thanks to Ballantine Books for the review copy, which will be passed on to a friend in Iowa, where the corn grows tall in the summer and the winters are long and harsh (which apparently leads to some wonderful reading time by the fire).