Monday, October 18, 2010

Book Review: Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine

Lady of Hay: Two Women, Eight Hundred Years, and the Destiny They ShareFrom the back cover:

“With a story as mesmerizing as it is chilling, Lady of Hay explores how Jo, a journalist investigating hypnotic regression, plunges into the life of Matilda, Lady of Hay—who lived eight hundred years earlier.  As she learns of Matilda’s unhappy marriage, her troubled love for Richard de Clare, and the brutal treatment she received from King John, it seems that Jo’s past and present are hopelessly entwined.  Centuries later, a story of secret passion and unspeakable treachery is about to begin again—and she has no choice but to brave both lives if she wants to shake the iron grip of history.”

*          *           *

Lady of Hay was an interesting dive into the world of hypnosis and some would say, time travel.  The story uses the theory of hypnotic regression as well as the concept of reincarnation to support the plot.  I myself am not a believer in either of these psychological/spiritual ideas, so my approach to this novel was that of a time-travel fan.  I saw our main characters not as reincarnated, but as people whose minds seemed to be alternating from 1985 to the turn of the 12th Century.  I’m sure this wasn’t the author’s intent, but it enabled me to enjoy the story.

Joanna is a feisty young writer, researching the topic of hypnotic regression for an article that she’s putting together for an English publication.  Through her research, she finds that she seems to be inexplicably tied to Matilda de St. Valerie, born in 1160 AD and wed to William de Braose in 1174.  Other friends and associates in her life also seem to be linked to citizens of ancient England.  Through hypnosis, the past and the present begin to intermingle, leading to life-or-death situations for some of the main characters.

Originally released in 1986, Lady of Hay went on to sell over 3 million copies.  This is not surprising to me, as Erskine weaves an interesting and compelling tale.  I enjoyed the frequent alternations between past and present, as well as the various struggles that characters went through in the different time periods.  There was suspense, romance, mystery, and a dynamic plot that pressed on with consistent energy until the conclusion.

As a non-believer of reincarnation, I wish the story could have been told in another way.  I think one motivation of using reincarnation is to give characters a chance to “begin again” and try to improve upon what has happened in a past life, even attempt to atone for mistakes they’ve made, especially with loved ones.  This is a central and driving need for all of us—the desire to be loved and to achieve a state of reconciliation or atonement.  As such, the reader can relate to the desires felt by the modern characters of Jo, Sam, Nick and Tim.  Despite all the hardships they endured and/or perpetrated, in their souls they sought love and resolution.

Because of my religious faith and some of the graphic and adult nature of some of this novel, I can’t say that I would heartily recommend it to those who share my beliefs.  However, if you can look past the spiritual overtones and see it as a time-traveling adventure and a realistic depiction of how people lived & were treated 800 years ago, then you should enjoy Lady of Hay.  Not all of it wraps up with a perfectly tied bow at the end, but the main conclusion is satisfying and the tale as a whole was an interesting experience.  If nothing else, it made me grateful for the beliefs I hold to be true (and not fiction) and for the husband I heartily enjoy in this singular life. 

This title was provided by Sourcebooks Landmark.
No obligation other than an honest review was required.



  1. Very interesting, thanks for the detailed review! I didn't know this one was a re-issue. Sometimes I don't really care for time travel as much as straight up historical though.

  2. Carrie:

    Thanks for your comment!

    It almost felt like a straight up historical at times-- the detail was well done. But they did spend about the same amount of time in 1985 as they did in the past.


  3. It sounds a bit like Anya Seton's Green Darkness -- although I think Seton's was simply reincarnation rather than time travel. Thanks for the review!

  4. Audra:

    Interesting! Thanks for stopping by!


  5. Sounds like an interesting book. I don't read historicals much, or time travel tales either, but I might give it a try.

    I found you on the Cym Lowell Blog Hop! I'm your newest follower!



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