Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Can a love last forever?
When Emma returns to Dublin to put her estranged father’s affairs in order, she begins to piece together the story of his life and that of Grace, the mother she never knew. She knows her father as the judge – as stern and distant at home as he was in the courtroom. But as she goes through his personal effects, Emma begins to find clues about her mother that shock her profoundly.
A tale of enduring love and scandal that begins in 1950s Dublin and unravels across decades and continents, digging up long-buried family secrets along the way, The Judge’s Wife asks whether love really can last forever.
The Judge's Wife is the second novel from Ann O'Loughlin, I haven't read her début The Ballroom Café yet but have heard nothing but good things about it. This new story follows the lives of three women over a 30 year period and how one great love and enforced circumstances changed their lives irreparably forever. But now following the death of the judge mentioned in the title, secrets firmly buried are about to come to light. Will the characters be able to cope with what is about to come out considering everything had been kept very hush hush? Secrets which had been kept hidden for a reason that were deemed the right thing at the time even though now they will cause nothing but heartache and distress for all involved. This book does hit you where it matters most - straight to the heart you ache for the injustice at the revelations unfolding and feel such hatred and bitterness towards certain characters that you believe you have deep rooted opinions that will never change. Yet it's the quality of the majority of Ann O'Loughlin's writing that will leave you open mouthed as the final true divulgements come to light and your opinions are turned on their head. I'll admit I did find the majority of the book very slow and it moved back and forth in time even within chapters which made it confusing and therefore the first three quarters of the book I didn't enjoy as much as I had expected to. The last quarter more than made up for all that had gone before. It was powerful,emotive and jaw dropping and this is where the book redeemed itself for me.
The story opens in Our Lady's Asylum, Knockavanagh, Co. Wicklow in March 1954, Grace is married to an older man Judge Martin Moran who is held in high regard and has plenty of sway if needed with the powers that be. After all in that day and age in Ireland if one had authority and money you could secure anything you want through any means necessary. The Judge's influence stretched far and wide and anything could be achieved if needed and at whatever cost. Grace has been stripped of everything her dignity, her belongings and most importantly the child she has recently given birth to, her beloved daughter has died. Grace is apparently going mad and Judge Martin and Aunt Violet have had Grace committed to an asylum as she is supposedly going mad with her grief. Grace has had no say in the matter, she is following orders and although she knows she is of sane mind despite her grief there is nothing she can do but give in to the harsh treatment she is forced to endure. 'You might be a judge's wife, but in here you are nothing, simply nothing'. Thirty years later a young woman called Emma has returned to Dublin to clean out her father's house upon his death, she had not spoken to the judge for over 12 years but is soon to discover everything was not as it seemed and secrets are about to come spilling forth. Emma finds a suitcase full of clothes and a notebook containing an entry from Grace appealing to a man named Vikram sincerely wishing she had ran away when the opportunity resents itself. Emma now is faced with multiple questions, she had been told her mother died in childbirth but now she knows that was not the case and sadly the people who can help her have all gone but can she locate the answers to all of the problems and questions that have presented themselves?
Emma was a woman who was so confused regarding all aspects of her life. Her marriage was falling apart and now she has to deal with the death of her father. A father who was cold, aloof, full of bitterness and hatred which manifested itself in the way in which he communicated and dealt with his daughter. No one could blame Emma for the way she reacts when she discovers her mother had been committed. Why had she been fed such lies? Why had her father been the least loving father figure possible to a young girl who was motherless and wanted and needed lots of love, care and attention? Aunt Violet was not the person to give it to her. I felt nothing but sympathy for Emma as everything she had known was false and her world was built on a foundation of lies. I could see no justification for what the Judge and Aunt Violet had done but yet it only served show just how the thinking at the time was so backward in terms of most aspects of life. The further we read the more secrets are brought to light although I felt things could have happened at a quicker pace and Emma could have done a bit more searching earlier on.
Balanced with Emma in 1984 we have two other stories, Vikram living in India who is planning a trip to Ireland to stand at the grave of the woman he loved the most and who was so cruelly taken away from him. His niece Rosa will accompany him on this journey. She has heard the tales of this remarkable woman Grace who captured her uncles heart. It was nice to read of Vikram's perspective of events and how 30 years later he is still deeply missing Grace and the moments they enjoyed together.Their love was forbidden at the time regardless of Grace's marriage and it showed me just how far we have come in terms of society’s acceptance of all kinds of relationships today. I really felt the deep love Vikram had for Grace and now the hurt and loneliness that radiated from him but did think too much time was given to details regrading his sister and family life in India. The element of the story which really caught my attention was the scenes featuring Grace while she is locked away in the asylum. They were certainly powerful and emotive and gave the reader a real sense of the desperation Grace felt. She was so hard done by the actions of others and how powerless she must have felt to have her world turned upside down. People she had some form of trust in let her down and the web of lies just became ever more tangled. Through Vikram's reminiscing we do get a sense of the deep love the pair had for each other but there was something slightly missing and I felt a little more from Grace's perspective was needed.
The Judge's Wife is a good read but for me it took too long to get going. I understand there was plenty of setting up to do but it felt like facts were being glossed over and some scenes required more depth to truly get inside some of the characters heads. There was too much jumping around in time as soon as I was familiarising myself with what Emma was experiencing in 1984 the story would jump back to Vikram and Grace or to Grace in the asylum. As I have said the last part of the book was by far the best and made up for the earlier parts, not that they were bad but they lacked some essence for me to truly engage with the characters.I certainly would have liked to hear from the judge himself and not have his personality and reasons explained through a secondary character who had me wondering for the majority of the book why they were actually there. Admittedly the twists and turns when they came were truly jaw dropping and the author had certainly pulled the wool over my eyes. Never did I for see such a conclusion but at the same time it did feel slightly rushed. This book was an easy enough enjoyable read and you would happily spend a few hours reading it during the summer, even if only to discover what exactly had happened and why, but for me I feel there is more to come from Ann O'Loughlin and I will be interested to see what direction she will venture in next.
Many thanks to Black and White Publishing for a copy of The Judge's Wife to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.