The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran

As soon as I heard the story BEHIND this novel, I knew I had to read it.  Many years ago, Moran’s father (who was a law professor) gave her mother an abstract about the Oades case.  Moran’s mother had taken up writing in her spare time, but she never got around to writing about Henry Oades and his two wives.  Years later, Moran reads the copy and begins to work on it right away.  I can easily see why; it’s a story begging to be told.

English accountant Henry Oades moves his wife Margaret and their two children to Australia (edit, it’s actually New Zealand, thanks Aarti for reminding me! Oops!) for a job transfer.  Margaret doesn’t want to go, but dutifully follows him out of love and devotion.  They are there a few years, long enough for Margaret to conceive and have twins, when the worst thing happens.  Margaret and the children are kidnapped by Maori and made into slaves.  Henry goes mad trying to find them, but after months of searching he finally gives them up for dead.  The grief is hard, pure and angry.  It’s heart-shattering.

Eventually he moves to California and takes up with dairy farming. Six years pass. He lives a solitary life, one of simplicity and loneliness.  He misses his wife and children with a palatable ache but as time passes, so does the grief.  He meets Nancy, a very young widow with a child on the way and is smitten.   They marry.

Meanwhile, Margaret and her children have managed to escape and find him in California.  Can you imagine?  You’ve mourned your entire family, finally move on with your life and began to start again with a new love, only to find your old family on your doorstep years later, very much alive?  And still married to you?

Johanna Moran takes the story of the Oades and fleshes it out.  She gives it life, heart and soul and she did a marvelous job with it overall.  The Wives of Henry Oades is very easy to read; it hooks you immediately, from the very first page.   She has a poetic way with words, something I appreciated from the start.  She did a great job with the characters, they all have their strengths and their weaknesses, but the thing I admire the most is how Moran made me feel sympathetic to each character’s own part in what could only be a sad story.  I felt like there should be someone in this triangle to hate, but I never could quite bring myself to dislike any of the characters.

If you haven’t read the book yet, you may want to stop here, as there will most likely be spoilers as I have to get this off my chest.

I have a few problems with this book.  Like how HENRY COMPLETELY DISAPPEARS as a narrator in the second half of the book.  By that point, I had become emotionally invested in his character, I was excited about his reaction to his family showing up on his doorstep, and we get nothing.  Zilch.  He never speaks to us again.  That really, really bothered me.  I can understand that he was now in love with Nancy.  I get that.  But he had to feel SOMETHING when he saw Margaret.  Right?  I mean really, the man didn’t even embrace her until she found out her parents had died while she was in captivity and then it was emotionless and awkward.  I wanted to know what HE was thinking, from his own mouth, and it just wasn’t there.  I’ve read where the author said she did this on purpose, for story reasons, and I guess I can understand it.  But it didn’t leave me very happy.

Also, Margaret.  Grow a backbone already.  She was entirely, unreasonably, attached to that man.

Okay, spoilers over.

Despite my few problems with the narrative, this is a wonderful piece of historical fiction.  You can tell Moran did her research.  It’s rich in detail, amazingly, beautifully written, and very hard to put down.

The publisher has agreed to giveaway one copy of this book to my readers.  Please fill out the following form (US and Canada only, please) and I will pick a winner this coming Sunday.  Good luck!

More about the author:

Interesting guest post by Johanna Moran, on the birth of her novel, at BethFishReads.
Johanna’s website, which features the ‘story behind the story’:
Interview and Reader’s Guide:

Johanna Moran’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

9 thoughts on “The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran

  1. Great review! (At least, until the spoiler, where I stopped.) I think you mean that Oades moved to New Zealand, though, not Australia 🙂

    I didn't know the story behind this story at all- that makes it sound even more fascinating!! Wow. Definitely entering your giveaway 🙂
    .-= Aarti´s last blog ..Blogsplash: Thaw! =-.

  2. You know, any book that can elicit so much emotion from the reader is one I think my book club would jump on. I’d already put this on my book club list of possible reads from another review but I’m even more convinced now, after reading yours.

    THanks so much for all the time you put into reading & reviewing “Wives”. We really appreciate it!
    .-= Lisamm´s last blog ..I Like and I Don’t Like =-.

  3. YES YES YES. I agree with your two spoilers. I just finished this on Sunday and I kepte thinking these things while I was writing my review.

    your reviw is great and I included a link to yours on my post. If that is not okay, let me know.

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