The Judge’s Wife by Ann O’Loughlin
(Black & White Publishing, 2016)
Note: Spoilers abound in this review.
Emma Moran returns to Ireland to sort out her estranged father’s affairs after his death, and begins to uncover family secrets about her father, a respected but reserved judge and her mother, whom she never knew.
Grace Moran, Emma’s mother, is well-portrayed as a beautiful, vivacious young woman, forced into a loveless arranged marriage. She and Vikram, an Indian doctor, fall for each other and she becomes pregnant. After the birth of twins, Grace’s conniving aunt Violet tells Vikram that Grace is dead, tells Grace her child is dead (Grace has no idea there were twins), and conspires to have the judge put Grace in an asylum, where she pines away for Vikram under the harsh watch of the staff.
Emma’s anger and resentment towards her father is well-portrayed and understandable – at times I found it hard to reconcile her version of the judge with that of his close friend, Andrew Kelly.
There were almost as many twists as a Hardy novel. The twist about the two girls being Grace’s twin daughters could easily be spotted early on. The twist about the judge in fact being homosexual I certainly did not see coming but was willing go along with. The ending, where Grace is alive many years after faking her own death . . . the book lost me here. I just did not find that even remotely believable. Nor even desirable as a reader. It was too fairytale. As a reader I fully accepted that Grace was dead, sad as that was for Vikram. But he had just found a new daughter that he didn’t know about which was bound to be some solace.
It is well written. The sights and smells of India are vibrant, particularly when Vikram’s sister Rhya looks through her saris and in descriptions of the coffee plantation. Dublin and Irish society of the 1950s and 1980s are well portrayed and the societal pressures on the homosexual judge, the philandering wife and the social-climbing aunt are completely believable. Sadly the treatment of the asylum patients is all too believable also.
It’s strange that this one woman, Aunt Violet, affected so many lives with her lies and twisted plans. Aside from material gain, it’s hard to know what drove her to be so heartless. She manipulated the judge; used Grace as marriage fodder and had her locked up when she realised she couldn’t control her; and she made Vikram believe the love of his life was dead. The judge was also a gutless character and it’s strange that he didn’t want to put any of this right before he died, rather than waiting until after he was dead to let the story out, particularly considering his working life was devoted to doling out justice. There is an attempt to explain this away in a letter he leaves for Emma, but for me it just wasn’t satisfactory.
The premise of the story is good – and that’s saying a lot considering how much literature there is around 1950s Ireland, women, and scandal – but the execution could have been better.