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Summary and book reviews of The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran

The Wives of Henry Oades

A Novel

by Johanna Moran

The Wives of Henry Oades
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    Feb 2010, 384 pages

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Book Summary

Exploring the intricacies of marriage, the construction of family, the changing world of the late 1800s, and the strength of two remarkable women, Johanna Moran turns this unusual family’s story into an unforgettable page-turning drama.

When Henry Oades accepts an accountancy post in New Zealand, his wife, Margaret, and their children follow him to exotic Wellington. But while Henry is an adventurer, Margaret is not. Their new home is rougher and more rustic than they expected—and a single night of tragedy shatters the family when the native Maori stage an uprising, kidnapping Margaret and her children.

For months, Henry scours the surrounding wilderness, until all hope is lost and his wife and children are presumed dead. Grief-stricken, he books passage to California. There he marries Nancy Foreland, a young widow with a new baby, and it seems they’ve both found happiness in the midst of their mourning—until Henry’s first wife and children show up, alive and having finally escaped captivity.

Narrated primarily by the two wives, and based on a real-life legal case, The Wives of Henry Oades is the riveting story of what happens when Henry, Margaret, and Nancy face persecution for bigamy. Exploring the intricacies of marriage, the construction of family, the changing world of the late 1800s, and the strength of two remarkable women, Johanna Moran turns this unusual family’s story into an unforgettable page-turning drama.

Part One
The Newcomers 1890

A common bat on the other side of the world elects to sink its rabid fangs, and one's cozy existence is finished.   Margaret Oades knew her husband was up to something the moment he came through the door with a bottle of wine. It was late. The children had gone up hours ago. "What's the occasion?" she asked, laying out a plain supper of shirred eggs and lardy cakes.

Henry kissed the nape of her neck, giving her a shiver. "I've an announcement," he said.

Margaret expected him to say he'd found a collie for their son. John, nearly eight now-her big boy, her pride-had been wheedling without letup for weeks. She took down two goblets, hoping the dog was an old one and not some frisky crocus lover.

"A senior passed in New Zealand," he said instead. "Of a bat bite, poor bloke. I'm to complete his stint. We're due as soon as possible. You'll want to prepare."

Margaret set the goblets aside. "Henry."

"Two years, sweetheart." He'd proposed marriage with the same ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. On the voyage to New Zealand, Mrs. Randolph, a fellow passenger, cares for Margaret as she miscarries. Later, when Margaret tries to explain her grief over her new friend’s death to Henry, she thinks, “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.” Do you agree with Margaret? Can a strong relationship between women be forged in a matter of hours? With whom have you felt this connection?

  2. Why do you think Mr. Oades misidentified Mim Bell as his wife? How could he have made such a grievous error?

  3. Margaret refers to the quid pro quo of her faith: “One takes communion every single Sunday for thirty- odd...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

31 BookBrowse readers reviewed The Wives of Henry Oades, with 27 of them rating it 4 or 5 stars.

Knowing that this story was based on true events, I just couldn't put the book down! It's absolutely unforgettable (Jean N). All of the characters are portrayed well - from the children to the minor characters (Anita S)... 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)... 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).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

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Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

Fresh and unusual …. A beguiling, promising debut.

Library Journal

Even unflappable Henry remains a bit of an enigma. Still, Moran's debut, based on the true case of Henry Oades, acquitted of bigamy three times, will intrigue historical fiction fans and provide plenty of discussion points for book clubs.

Publishers Weekly

Intriguing and evocative …. A book group winner.

Author Blurb Meg Waite Clayton, author of the national bestseller The Wednesday Sisters
Equal parts love story and courtroom drama … a compelling story of good people caught in impossible circumstances.

Author Blurb Jamie Ford, bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
A historical saga seen through the lens of two wives, one husband, and the disapproving, cantankerous rabble at the end of Victorian America––a stellar debut novel.

Reader Reviews

Betsy R. (Gig Harbor, WA)

Great book
I really loved this book. It is a unique blend of drama and historical research, which is incorporated well into the story. The women characters are particularly well-developed. I plan to recommend it to my book club when it is out in March.

Vy A. (Phoenix,

The Wives of Henry Oades
Based on a true story, taking place at the turn of the 20th Century in New Zealand and San Francisco, this book was difficult for me to put down because of the compelling characters and descriptive writing style, as well as an unbelievable series of ...   Read More

Kat F. (Palatine, IL)

Pleasant surprise after all
The reason I asked to review this book was because the description was so intriguing. Then I received the book and based on the cover alone, thought I was in for a big disappointment. Turns out I was wrong. This is a great first novel. Taking ...   Read More

Marta M. (Tustin, CA)

An enjoyable read
I really enjoyed reading this book. It is a historical novel based on a true court case in California at the turn of the twentieth century. Many of the reviewers said that they wanted more fleshed out characters. I had to keep reminding myself ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Story Behind the Story
(from Johanna Moran's website)

"More than a half-century ago, my father, a law professor, came across an abstract on the Oades case, and showed it to my mother, who was attempting to write short fiction in her nonexistent spare time. She was intrigued and gave thought to fleshing out the story, but that's as far as she got. She might have had three kids down with mumps that week or a spectacular birthday party to host. In any event, five children and writing never did mesh. My mother squirreled the abstract away, perhaps thinking she'd get to it eventually. She gave it to me about ten years ago. I was drawn in immediately and went from there."

About the Author
Johanna Moran worked as a flight attendant ...

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