Sunday, 28 May 2017

Review: The Doctor's Wife is Dead by Andrew Tierney

Title: The Doctor's Wife is Dead
Author: Andrew Tierney
Publisher:  Penguin Ireland
Pages: 272
Genres: Non-fiction, True Crime

In 1849, a woman called Ellen Langley died in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary. She was the wife of a prosperous local doctor. So why was she buried in a pauper's coffin? Why had she been confined to the grim attic of the house she shared with her husband, and then exiled to a rented dwelling-room in an impoverished part of the famine-ravaged town? And why was her husband charged with murder?

Following every twist and turn of the inquest into Ellen Langley's death and the trial of her husband, The Doctor's Wife is Dead tells the story of an unhappy marriage, of a man's confidence that he could get away with abusing his wife, and of the brave efforts of a number of ordinary citizens to hold him to account. Andrew Tierney has produced a tour de force of narrative nonfiction that shines a light on the double standards of Victorian law and morality and illuminates the weave of money, sex, ambition and respectability that defined the possibilities and limitations of married life. It is a gripping portrait of a marriage, a society and a shocking legal drama.
Okay. So this was quite the depressing read. It is a true crime non-fiction about the suspicious death of a doctor's wife in Nenagh, Ireland in 1849. The poor woman was placed in the cheapest coffin available and without a shroud, left to rot in the garden, amongst trash, for two days before being buried in an unmarked grave in the local churchyard. Scandalous and terrible treatment of a loved one's body for the time. Of course, the locals were suspicious that the doctor had poisoned her and the book is about what really happened as the full story is illuminated in the subsequent murder trial.

What was really depressing about this book was the fact that it highlighted the painful reality that women of this time period had no rights whatsoever when it came to domestic violence, abuse, or spousal infidelity. Wives were to remain completely faithful to their husbands whilst their husbands could stuff it to anyone they pleased, or abuse their wives however they liked, without persecution. As soon as a wife had an affair, she felt the full force of the law. It was terrible. My goodness.

I didn't enjoy this book as much as I thought I would because I did not particularly like the writing style. It felt convoluted and rushed in places, and there was so many different names to keep track of that I found myself getting confused on more than one occasion. The case presented is shocking, does not have a happy ending, and what exactly happened to the victim is never ascertained. It was kind of maddening really. I can't say I would particularly recommend it.

I received a complementary copy from the publisher. All opinions stated in this review are unbiased and my own.

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