The Unreliable Death of Lady Grange

Written by Sue Lawrence
Review by Ingibjörg Ágústsdóttir

The life of Lady Grange (born Rachel Chiesley in 1679), whose husband was James Erskine, Lord Grange and Lord Justice Clerk of Scotland, was both shocking, fascinating and full of mystery. After she had borne Lord Grange nine children, the couple became estranged and when Rachel threatened to expose James as a Jacobite in 1732, he had her abducted and removed to the Outer Hebrides and kept there as a prisoner.

Lawrence’s novel reconstructs these events and their aftermath in a compelling narrative that attempts to “imagine the plight of a woman who had no say whatsoever over her destiny”, as stated in an afterword. It is a worthy effort, fitting current trends in historical fiction, where women’s history is centralised and new light shed on their position in the past. Rachel is not a submissive wife; she does not comply with ideas on how women should behave and is unwilling to accept her husband’s infidelities. For this she is made to pay a heavy price. Lawrence also provides insight into life in the Outer Hebrides, initially alien and barbaric in Rachel’s eyes.

This is in most respects an enjoyable read, but the novel would be strengthened by having fewer and more distinctly formed narrative voices; the romance plot at the centre of the Monach island chapters also adds little to the story.