Today the Literary Wives blog group members all review The Inquisitor’s Wife. Be sure to check out the other reviews at the links at the bottom of this review. We encourage you to participate by submitting your comments or a link to your own review to any of our blogs, or you can submit a comment or link on our new Facebook page! For more information, see my Literary Wives page.
The Inquisitor’s Wife is a historical novel with a promising concept that is not fulfilled. Although set in an interesting era and place, its characters behave as they need to just to drive the plot.
Marisol Garcia is the daughter of Diego, a respected Old Christian of 15th century Seville, and Magdalena, a converso, or Jewish woman forcibly converted to Christianity. Although as a child Marisol observes her mother’s celebration of the Sabbath on Friday nights without understanding what it means, when she is 11, she is ridiculed by the neighborhood children for being a Jew. Humiliated, she turns against her mother and refuses to take part in her rituals.
This, aside from a complete lack of a sense of their household and daily life, was my first problem with this novel, because Marisol’s loyalties and feelings about her heritage shift back and forth throughout the novel. Having adored her mother, she turns against her in an instant after one incident. Later, she changes her mind several times, and in general her behavior as a young woman is more like that of a spoiled adolescent.
As Queen Isabella gains power, the conversos of the city hope she will protect them, as she herself has married one of them, King Ferdinand. They are about to be gravely disappointed.
Eventually, everyone hears rumors of an Inquisition, and Magdalena becomes terrified that the horrible events of her childhood will recur. She urges Diego to move the family to Portugal, but secure in his own innocence and unaware of his wife’s activities, he is firm in his belief that they are not in danger. Marisol follows her mother outside one night to the river and sees her drown herself, apparently from despair.
Marisol has been in love with her neighbor Antonio since they were children. They are engaged while he is away studying, but after she does not hear from him for over a year, she believes he has abandoned her. Shortly after her mother’s death, she finds out her father has made some kind of deal with another neighbor, whom she detests, Gabriel Hojeda, who is a civil administrator for the Inquisition. She is forced to marry him, and her father renounces her.
Of course, he is trying to protect her as the Inquisition is going after him (for no apparent reason but that his wife was a converso), but it takes her awhile to figure this out. She continues to be clueless throughout the novel, not picking up on any of the hints that are strewn everywhere. Then, on her wedding night, Gabriel’s intimidating brother Fray Hojeda asks for a promise that the two will not consummate their marriage for a month. There is no apparent reason for this request either except the plot’s need to save Marisol for Antonio and to introduce a sadistic sex scene toward the end of the novel.
I can go on and on about the unlikeliness of the plot as Marisol and her father fall deeper into danger. But one tiny spoiler reveals how poorly thought out this novel is. Marisol and Antonio don’t hear from each other in a year. Why? Because jealous Gabriel is stealing their letters. How he does this is not explained, but mail is not exactly sitting out in the mailbox. Oh, let’s have another example. In a late scene in the novel, Marisol and Antonio swim to safety—this in a time when most Europeans didn’t swim, even sailors, not to mention gently born Spanish ladies dressed in enveloping and heavy garb. She would have sunk immediately.
As I mentioned before, there is no sense of the characters’ daily lives except for Magdalena’s time spent painting ceramics, and that is in service of the plot. When Marisol gets married, instead of taking over the household as a well-trained wife of her class would do, she asks her husband what she should do and since he gives her nothing to do, apparently does nothing except run around town unchaperoned. Except for Marisol, all of the characters are completely undeveloped. Everyone is either good or bad. Although this novel has the opportunity to say something about the Inquisition, it disintegrates into a messy damsel in distress story that becomes more absurd as it continues. If it was purely a romp, I wouldn’t judge it so harshly, but it seems to have pretensions to something more serious.
What does this book say about wives or the experience of being a wife?
Marisol’s marriage to Gabriel is just a plot device. Even its motivation doesn’t make sense, because if she and her father are in danger just because of her mother, Gabriel’s having married Marisol would logically put him in danger. He would not be able to protect her and in fact, does not really try to. As to the other marriage, her parents’ is warm but only scantily depicted. The only true family, that of Marisol’s uncle, comes to the novel late, and we don’t see much of it.
In what way does this woman define “wife” or is defined by “wife”?
This novel doesn’t really concern itself with wifehood. Gabriel’s definition of a wife is someone who is in his power. Other than being another threat to the damsel and a way to keep her and Antonio apart, Marisol’s status as a wife is hardly even regarded or treated with. In fact, in another unlikely plot twist, she is asked to keep her marriage a secret, even though she is living in her husband’s house unchaperoned and would have her reputation damaged if she was not thought to be married. Diego and Magdalena love each other, but Magdalena deceives Diego in continuing to observe her religion, and we don’t see much of them together.
Be sure to view the posts of the other “wives,” as follows:
Ariel of One Little Library
Audra of Unabridged Chick
Carolyn of Rosemary and Reading Glasses
Cecilia of Only You
Lynn of Smoke and Mirrors