The Memory of Midnight
Tess escapes her controlling husband and returns home to modern-day York with her young son, eager to stand on her own and rebuild her ravaged life. She sublets a flat in the older part of York and takes a job transcribing Tudor documents. Her attempts at a new start are threatened by vivid dreams of life lived in Elizabethan times by a woman named Nell, whose struggle to find joy in a life lived over 400 years ago mirrors Tess’s own ordeal. Nell’s life, her consuming love for Tom, and her eventual marriage to the abusive and bullying Ralph rapidly threaten to overwhelm Tess’s present life—but can Nell teach Tess something?
This was an entrancing novel, although I confess I had to put it down a few times. The struggle of women against domestic abuse, both in the past and in the present, is forcefully voiced in this time-slip novel and does not always make for a light or easy read. My passionate involvement in the story and the characters testify to Hartshorne’s writing skill. Nell’s past life in York is powerfully painted, and the Tudor sections of the novel seem more vivid than Tess’s present-day life. This may have been intentional, as Tess herself states early on that colors and experiences seemed richer in her visions of the past. As a lover of historical fiction, I agree, even if the picture painted is a challenging one. Recommended.