Biographical Fictional Drama
"‘There is no me; there is no you.
There is only us.’ The Maids of Biddenden is inspired by the real-life story of conjoined twins Mary and Eliza Chulkhurst, born in 1100 into a wealthy family from a small Kent village. Joined at the hip, the sisters overcome fear and hostility to grow into gifted and much-loved women – one a talented musician and song-writer, the other a caring healer and grower of medicinal plants. Entangled in the struggles for power and influence of the great Kent nobles of the time, they achieve much in their lifetimes and leave behind a legacy in Biddenden that survives to this day."
Based on true events, this was a sensitive and emotional read. Conjoined twins in the heart of rural Kent would be a tale worth telling even today, but being based on the real lives of real people in Medieval England there was an extra poignancy to the story. The author hit the spot for quality of research and for his skill in weaving the facts of daily life and the use of herbal medicines into an intricate and absorbing novel.
The two maids in question, Mary and Eliza Chulkhurst, were well written characters, each with their own personality bound together by not just their physical joining, but also by their shared dignity and sheer perseverance of spirit.
Superstition and religious belief played its biased part in the lives of the girls and their family, where the work of the devil was uppermost in the minds of all, with the girls seen as monsters and abominations. Even the birth of twins was regraded as ‘unnatural’ in these times; the fact that Mary and Eliza survived into adulthood is remarkable.
This is fiction, although based on fact, but the novel is written with such skill that every word seems entirely believable. My only caveat is that the novel becomes very slightly repetitive and a little slow towards the middle. At 400 pages, I think the author could have afforded a stricter edit.
Do read the author's note; it is as fascinating as the novel itself.
No spoilers, but how these two delightful characters survived is a story worth reading.
Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds
© Helen Hollick