The hard-hitting, tough journalist girl-about-town Jo Clifford is doing some research for a series of articles for a women’s magazine into regression and past lives, and finds that she is a very good hypnotic candidate herself. Whilst hypnotised she experiences a sequence of events that indicate she is tapping into/has slipped into the memories of Matilda, the Lady of Hay in the title of the book. As the story unfolds, Jo gets drawn into Matilda’s story more and more, and the line between the present and the past get more and more blurred.
Who are the main characters?
In the modern day, the central characters are Jo Clifford, Nick and Sam Franklyn and various hangers on. The historical characters were mainly Matilda and William de Braose, Richard de Clare and Prince (later King) John.
Where is it set?
The main locations are London and various castles in Wales.
My overall impression?
I first read this when I was about 17 or 18 at college in the 1980’s and the idea of past-life regression has fascinated me ever since, as had this particular book. The edition I read had a bonus short story as an extended epilogue, bringing the story right up to date which is why I picked it up again, and I was looking forward to reading it again. I have to say that I was a bit disappointed this time round.
First of all – the character Jo. She is billed as this tough, go-getter who takes no messing from other people. We are led to believe she is strong and independent, and yet throughout this book she is pushed around by everyone she meets. She is totally incapable of functioning without either a cup of coffee or a bottle of Scotch on the go and she comes across as so weak it’s as if the blurb on the book is talking about a different character.
Secondly – the book is overlong by about 30%. It was far too repetitive and could easily have been wrapped up without the long winded middle bit. I did enjoy the new addition at the end…but that again was a bit long and could have done with a bit of a trim.
Thirdly – there were far too many characters to keep track of. I get annoyed when characters share similar names (I kind of skim through names as I’m reading so if there are two characters with the same initial I get slowed down differentiating them) and this book had “Jo” and “Judy” to contend with. Also, until about half way through I kept getting the characters Nick and Sam confused in my head. They were badly drawn to begin with and I ended up not caring which was which. And that’s before we get to the 12th Century characters…
On a positive note, I did enjoy the “historical” story of Matilda and William and I did care about what happened to them, and I did like the way that the two stories were interwoven in the book. Barbara Erskine cannot be faulted for her historical research into the stories of the 12th Century figures and her knowledge of historic households and relationships.
Will I read the next in the series?
This was the original “past meets present” book from Barbara Erskine and I have read several of hers since then. Each one is different, but kind of the same if that makes sense? This one is the only one I’ve read where the present goes back to the past (Jo regresses to the 12th Century) and the others are all where the past comes to the present. They have all book good reads and no doubt I will read another in the future.
Would I recommend it to my friends?
Hmmm… I wouldn’t give it a thumping big endorsement, but neither would I steer people away from it neither.
It would appeal to anyone who is interested in historical fiction, and to anyone who is interested to read about hypnotism. I would warn you that there is absolutely no scientific proof that hypnotic regression actually exists, so this book is pure fiction in that respect.