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.
Some times you start hearing things about an author and you think that you might like to read them. And then you hear more and upgrade to that opinion to definitely would like to read them. A bit later and you know that you HAVE to read them, and you fully expect that you are going to love reading their work.
Barbara Erskine is one of those authors for me. Over the years I have heard a few things about her books, this book in particular, and so when I was offered an ARC from Sourcebooks I jumped at the opportunity. Erskine's books contain so much that I love to read - historical fiction, time travel, a few spooky/gothic elements. The anticipation was huge. And normally when I get this vibe I am right.
But I was wrong this time, because I didn't love it at all, and I really struggled to read it.
The story opens with student Jo Clifford being hypnotised with a view to hypnotic regression. In the room is Sam Franklyn. Jo turns out to be a very good subject - too good in fact, and in the end the hypnotists agree that she should never be hypnotised again because she was just too susceptible to past life regression. So they tell her that the hypnotism didn't work and send her on her way.
Fast forward 15 years. Jo is now a hard hitting investigative journalist, who has been dating Sam's brother Nick for a while now. It is however a very on and off relationship and when the book opens it is off - for the most part anyway. Jo is writing an investigative article about hypnotism, and agrees to undertake hypnosis. Whilst under she starts manifesting the life of Matilda de Braose, a woman who lived in the 1200s, not realising that the turbulent love life of Matilda is being played out to the inevitable ending here in modern times.
What follows is at times interesting as Jo travels around England going to various sites that were important to Matilda, and each time using regression, sometimes accidental, to see more of Matilda's life, some times good, and some times not.
Generally when I read this kind of time slip novel I have a preference for the past life, and while that is true for this book it is only marginal. The fact of the matter, I didn't really like the people that filled either story. Then again, I haven't often heard or read much positive about King John I, so that wasn't necessarily unexpected, and Matilda was pretty much treated as you might expect a medieval woman to be. So whilst I didn't like the historical characters, they didn't exactly behave in ways that were unexpected. Historically, the details didn't feel too bad in terms of accuracy, but there were some relationships (for example, between Matilda and King John I) that were presented in a way that was fictional, and acknowledged as such in the authors notes, but if the reader was completely unfamiliar with this time they may come away with the wrong idea.
I didn't really expect the modern characters to be all pretty much unlikeable though. I am not sure if it was a reflection of the fact that the book was originally written in 1985 and maybe shows the different values of a different time (more the 'greed is good' world), but all the characters seem to be well off, self important, violent, jealous, casual drug users, and quite free in their sexual relationships.
I also felt that the motivations of one of the characters wasn't fully explained, especially seeing as the pretext seemed to be that he was inherently evil, but apparently no one saw it before the events of the book.
So I guess it remains to be seen if it is just this Barbara Erskine novel which I really didn't enjoy that much. I do have another one of her novels here. Not sure when I am going to read it though. I still kind of get the impression that I should like Barbara Erskine's novels, but this definitely wasn't a good one for me to start with.