It's hard to really comprehend what life was like before central heating, boilers, regular baths and cars, but this book is probably the closest I've ever come to knowing I would never want to live then.
I've loved the 14th century for two decades now, and it's easy to get swept up in the romance of the period, the pageantry, the burly men, and the herosim so often written about. Obviously a lot of books go to show how the Middle Ages was not an enticing time to be alive, but when you read about the feeling of always being wet, through damp, through rain, through being covered in your sick child's vomit or urine, and not being able to really dry anything, ever, that wish for the past flies out of the window and explodes like a supernova.
Though written as a fiction, it's better described as "faction", drawing on excellent research of small village life that reads as a story. Medieval Woman: Village Life in the Middle Ages is a fantastic cultural overview from the perspective of one woman in a small village in the north. The need and expectation of interaction from her neighbours and family nearby, and the tight bubble surrounding their environment and life, also holds tantalising glimpses of 'foreign' lands and people, who come by occasionally, and to whom the whole village is sometimes attended upon. It also gives a huge perspective of the effort required purely to ensure your family keeps warm, the intimacy of relations with the local hierarchy, families that contribute nothing but starving offspring who steal your things, and the death of an essential local whose wife and children are then forced into uncertainty
Hilariously I listened to a huge portion of this book whilst walking in Wales in search of a remote church ruin, where my boots had become fairly uncomfortable with damp. Suffice to say, once I returned to my car and changed my socks and shoes, then went to get a hot coffee I thanked God I had been born in the 20th century.
I was totally engrossed in this story, and every chapter introduced a new perspective on this tough and compelling world our ancestors survived. Even the hardiest of people nowadays probably wouldn't survive a lifetime like these characters, and would be craving a bath and a Sunday roast about a month into this hell. I have far more respect for the average people in our past than I ever did before. Well worth the listen for anyone remotely interested in the social, cultural and economical labours of rural life in the Middle Ages, and who are looking for something they might not expect to enjoy so much.