Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger

The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger is about Sally, an English maid to Lady Duff Gordon, who suffers from consumption.  Lady Duff Gordon's health is rapidly failing in the damp weather of England, and after years of traveling around the world in hopes of a cure, it soon becomes clear living for an extended period of time in a warm, dry climate is the only way Lady Duff Gordon will survive.  Off to Egypt the two travel, and Sally's life as a lady's maid slowly changes under the hot sun of Egypt.

Settling in Luxor, in the "French House", Lady Duff Gordon hires Omar to teach them Arabic and help them navigate the foreign world of Egypt.  He cooks, negotiates with locals,  and takes care of the household.  Soon Sally and Omar fall in love, and Sally finds herself pregnant.  What she chooses to do about her pregnancy sets the tone for the majority of the novel, and changes her life forever.  

Let's just say Lady Duff Gordon is a woman who is very conscious of the fact that she is a middle aged woman who has had to leave her husband and children in order to regain her health.  She expects those who work for her to live for her, and they can't have any kind of life that doesn't revolve around her.  You understand her frustrations and sorrow, being so far away from her family, but at the same time, she's not very nice.  Very demanding and oblivious to those who serve her--they have feelings, hopes, and desires, too. 

Lady Duff Gordon was an actual person; you can download her letters home from Egypt as an e-book for free.  
The story of Sally actually happened, too.  It's pretty interesting to read a novel about actual people, and Kate Pullinger does a great job of describing the beauty and harshness of Egypt in the 1860's.  The slow paced life of those with money in Egypt lulls you, much like swinging in a hammock; then the story explodes, and you're shaken awake and rooting for Sally.  

This book is available in paperback in January.  It's an interesting read about the choices women have to make  in a restricted society; in this book, Victorian England is much more restrictive than Egypt.  Brew up a pot of mint tea, shut off the phone, and settle in for Sally's story.  

1 comment :