Monday 14 March 2022

Book Review: Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine

Lady of Hay book cover

A story spanning centuries. A long-awaited revenge.

In London, journalist Jo Clifford plans to debunk the belief in past lives in a hard-hitting magazine piece. But her scepticism is shaken when a hypnotist forces her to relive the experiences of Matilda, Lady of Hay, a noblewoman during the reign of King John.

She learns of Matilda's unhappy marriage, her love for the handsome Richard de Clare, and the brutal death threats handed out by King John before it becomes clear that Jo’s past and present are inevitably entwined. She realises that eight hundred years on, Matilda’s story of secret passion and unspeakable treachery is about to repeat itself...

Lady of Hay is a historical timeslip novel. Half of the story is set in medieval times, whereas the other half is set in the 1980s. 

This is a story of two halves in more than just the dual timeline element of the story. The medieval chapters are fascinating, brimming with rich historical detail and interesting characters. On the flip side, the book is seriously let down by the parts set during the 1980s. 

The main character, Jo Clifford, is a freelance journalist billed as an independent woman who isn't afraid to write scathing, on-the-nose articles. However, in reality, she is the complete opposite. Jo lets anyone and everyone walk all over her. She's impulsive, frustrating, and inherently unlikeable. In fact, none of the characters in the 1980s parts of the book are either likeable or relatable. Sadly, this makes it hard to care much about their chapters, and it's all too easy to find yourself skimming through to get to the next medieval section.

This is also quite a long book and it did drag in places. While the medieval parts were full of action, nothing much seemed to happen in the 1980s parts other than the characters barging into each other's homes and drinking an obscene amount of coffee and Scotch. 

Matilda, the eponymous Lady of Hay, is a fascinating character. Forced into a marriage she had no desire to be in, she made the best of her situation and rose to become an influential woman in her own right. The real Matilda de Braose must have been an inspiring woman in her day. Even reading about her so many years later, her bravery and dedication come across clearly.

Usually, I love dual timeline novels, but I just don't get the buzz around Lady of Hay. I can only imagine it must have had a much better reception back when it was first published in the 80s!

Rating: 3 stars

Lady of Hay is available to buy now.

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Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments below!

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