BookBrowse Reviews The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran

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The Wives of Henry Oades

A Novel

by Johanna Moran

The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran
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    Feb 2010, 384 pages

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A debut novel set New Zealand and California in the late 1800's, based on a remarkable true story - Paperback

31 BookBrowse readers reviewed The Wives of Henry Oades, with 27 of them rating it 4 or 5 stars. Nearly all agree it's sure to be a hit with book clubs. Here's what they had to say:

Based on a true story, this book proves that truth is indeed stranger than fiction. For example, what would you do if the wife and children of the man you married showed up on the doorstep, years after everyone thought they were dead? How this situation plays out keeps the reader turning the pages and the result is a testimonial to the power of love and to the compassion of two extraordinary women (Vy A). The author portrays the two wives and the husband in such a way that I could see each one, their situations, viewpoints and feelings very clearly. I really felt for these people. Knowing that this story was based on true events, I just couldn't put the book down! It's absolutely unforgettable (Jean N).

What really impacted me most about this book is the relationship that develops between the two Mrs. Oadeses, one now in her 40s, having lived through - and having watched her children live through - more horrible and difficult experiences than one can imagine; and the other, a young widow with an infant, who not only willingly takes in her husband's first wife and his children, but is protective and supportive of them under the onslaught of the community and the law (Arden A.) All of the characters are portrayed well - from the children to the minor characters (Anita S). Margaret Oades is one of the strongest women I have ever read about. Each travail in her life only makes her stronger. I recommend this book wholeheartedly and I look forward to reading more books by this author (Virginia W).

This is a story that makes women think: What is marriage? What is bigamy? Can a man really love two women? Must women always be rivals? But it's also a story that makes people think: Why do we judge based on appearances? Why do our religious or moral convictions cause pain when imposed on others? Can we control what our children do? And if we can't, are we responsible for their actions (Margaret R)? This book would be a great book for book groups because of the legal and moral issues surrounding the incident, not to mention that it is just a fascinating story (Andrea S). The moral quandary Henry, Nacy and Margaret find themselves in would surely elicit an interesting discussion (Laura K).

But some found the characters and story development lacking...
I found the characters underdeveloped and flat. Although the author conveys the interrelationships of Margaret and Nancy, the children, and Henry, I often lacked empathy for the characters and their plight. Frequently, I found myself questioning some of their motives and reactions to certain situations. There are times when the characters hardly seem real (Marie A). There is very little range of emotion shown, and motives aren't always clear. We don't really get to know the characters very well, beyond their devotion to one another. There are some interesting dramas in the story: the abduction, the search, the trials for bigamy. But all were merely sketched out. I would have liked more about the family's life with the Maori, for instance. And the end was a let down - everything is resolved, but it ended abruptly as if in the middle of a paragraph (Elyse G).

The bottom line:
At times the emotions of the women are not explored deeply enough, particularly the first Mrs. Oades who has every reason to feel emotionally betrayed. Still, this is an incredible story that will be certain to elicit thought-provoking discussions long after the last page is finished (Jill S).

This review is from the February 17, 2010 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.



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