The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What a thoroughly engrossing read this novel based on a factual event is.
I love a book where the characters feel so real to me that I "miss" them when I've finished reading, which is exactly how I felt when I put this book down yesterday.
When 19th century couple Margaret and Henry Oades set sail for New Zealand so he can take up his promoted position in accountancy even setting foot on board the ship seems like a huge adventure.
Adapting to life overseas isn't always easy but the resilient wife and mother Margaret makes the best of things, encouraging her loving husband and devoted father of their children Henry, to settle in a rural spot where the isolation is relived somewhat as Margaret makes friends with a neighbouring wife.
Whilst the women are enjoying a visit with each other the unthinkable happens and the women and children are targetted by a Maori tribe, their home torched and Margaret and her family taken hostage.
Now, like many others this is the point I'd have loved to have read a lot more detail, but to the authors credit the story continues to flow beautifully as we follow Henrys dreadful discovery of a womans charred remains, amidst his destroyed home. Children missing and wife presumed dead we suffer with him as he fights to keep his sanity.
As time passes the opportunity to leave New Zealand arises and Henry sets off for America, a broken man, ending up running a sheep farm. Gradually his life begins to take shape and he marries a young widow with child who can't replace his lost wife and family but begin to fill the gaping hole left by them.
When Margaret and children, having eventually escaped from their captors, finally track down their long lost husband and father, the loving reunion of which she has dreamt for so long in captivity is not to be and the actions and reactions of all concerned when Margaret comes face to face with Henry ... and his new wife are surprising, poignant and not without some blackly humorous moments.
The author has created believable characters and set them in an almost beyond belief scenario. Although I warmed most towards Margaret all 3 main protagonists are likeable and cope well with their enforced situation and the resulting ostracism and scorn, with which their attempts to deal equably with a tense and difficult situtation create.
Thought provoking, unusual and imaginative - a delightful debut from a very promising new author.