My mother reads lots of fiction written by Irish authors, set in Ireland, which falls into the ‘women’s fiction’ genre. I hate that as a label, but in any case, when I get my hands on her books, I have lots of choices of books to read by Irish authors. Having noticed that I was missing an O surname in my challenge last week, I figured an Irish surname was an easy way to fix that, so I picked ‘The Judge’s Wife’ by Ann O’Loughlin. I didn’t realise until after I had finished it that this wasn’t actually the first book by this author that I’ve read, but I wish I’d been a bit more attentive, because I didn’t enjoy the first book I read by her particularly, and I enjoyed this second one even less.
Spanning three decades, this is the moving story of three women and how one great love changed their lives forever.
With her whole life ahead of her, beautiful young Grace’s world changes forever when she’s married off to a much older judge. Soon, feeling lonely and neglected, Grace meets and falls in love with an Indian doctor, Vikram. He’s charming, thoughtful and kind, everything her husband is not. But this is the 1950s and when she becomes pregnant, the potential scandal must be harshly dealt with to avoid ruin.
As soon as she has given birth, Grace is sent to an asylum by the judge and a conniving aunt. Vikram is told that Grace died in childbirth and returns, heartbroken, to India. But it’s not the end of the story. Thirty years later, with the judge dead, his estranged daughter Emma returns home, full of anger and resentment. There she finds Grace’s diaries and begins to uncover a mystery about her mother that she had never suspected. Meanwhile, in India, Vikram is planning a long-awaited trip to Ireland with his much-loved niece, Rosa, who has heard all about Grace and her uncle’s long lost love, so that he can stand, at last, at the grave of the woman he loved.
As secrets are finally uncovered, will they be able to cope with the biggest secret of all?
So there was a lot I didn’t like about this book, actually. Firstly, the writing style felt very clunky. Every single word was written out in its entirety, including during speech, so there was no real vocal flow to reading the dialogue parts. I was on the phone to my sister the other day, giving out about this, and tried to avoid using any contractions in my speech for the rest of the conversation. I lasted two sentences. Now admittedly this book was set in the fifties and eighties, so perhaps speech was more formal then than it is now, but even still, I really did feel like the writing style detracted from immersing myself in the story.
I also wasn’t all that on board with the story. There were some admirably strong parts in it – there’s no denying that the treatment of women in the fifties in Ireland was appalling, and this book highlights that to a degree, through how the women with Grace are treated by those around them, and how their issues are viewed and the general attitude of others towards them. I was on board with that, certainly. But the actual driving force of the plot was, frankly, ridiculous. There were so many revelations that I was turning every page waiting for the next big twist to come, and rolling my eyes from about halfway through.
There are a lot of smaller, niggly things that I could have brought up to complain about with regard to the plot of this book. It actually uses a similar plot device to The Tea Planter’s Wife, which I read a few years ago. The thing is, though, The Tea Planter’s Wife just handled it much better, rather than piling reveal on reveal on reveal until my eyes hurt from rolling them so hard.
I didn’t particularly enjoy the first Ann O’Loughlin book I read, and I definitely didn’t enjoy this, the second, so I’ll have to remember her name and avoid her in future. There are much better authors out there who write historical fiction, fiction which focuses on Ireland’s appalling treatment of women, fiction about enduring love and arranged marriages, about families being split up, but, you know, they make it seem at least a little bit realistic. I will not be seeking out another O’Loughlin book in the near future!