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surprise! - about reincarnation. A very tall tale, told in upwards of 500 pages, this is the story of a modern female journalist in England who discovers through hypnosis that she used to be Matilda de Braose, a little-known historical figure of the 12th Century whose legend survives in the region of the Welsh border. Matilda was a real woman, but her life is so spottily recorded that it allows wide latitude for a fiction writer to prevaricate what is missing. In telling the parallel stories of the modern and the medieval woman, [BARBARA ERSKINE] demonstrates that, if you give a writer of romantic bent that sort of inch, then the horizon is the limit.
introduction. Filled with used bookstores, it purports to have the biggest concentration of old books for sale anywhere in the world. Hay's other main attraction is a ruined castle, not on a distant hill, but right there in town. To look at it is to set the imagination going, and that is what happened to Barbara Erskine. Hay Castle, she found out on inquiry, was built by Matilda de Braose, a Welsh border baroness who died in 1211, thrown into an oubliette by bad King John, the one who had the Magna Carta forced on him. An oubliette, if you don't have the dictionary handy, is a dungeon cell with a trapdoor in the ceiling, where prisoners were left to be forgotten until they died of thirst and starvation.
In the story, the modern heroine and her medieval other self are not the only characters linked by reincarnation. The present-day protagonist discovers that almost everybody she knows is also a transplant from the 12th Century. "One of the fascinating things about reincarnation," Barbara Erskine says, "is that we come back in groups. That's why we like or dislike certain people at first sight. If we keep coming back through enough centuries, we eventually have a chance to work out our relationships." Therefore forget divorce. Make it a temporary separation until A.D. 2287.