Trish's Reviews > The Mistress of Nothing

The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger
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Jun 03, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: africa, british, fiction, mideast
Read 2 times. Last read June 10, 2011 to June 11, 2011.

At first I was a little taken aback that this book was not written in the voice of Lady Duff Gordon, on whose letters this novel was based. I thought I might prefer the voice of the woman whose entrance into a room made the party brighter, suddenly more fashionable, very au courant. Lady Duff Gordon suffered from a malady of the lungs, which required a warm, dry climate rather than that of England at the turn of the 20th century. She left her family and moved to Egypt with her ladies’ maid and spent the bulk of her time in Luxor, home of the tombs of the pharaohs and the Sphinx. She enjoyed a wide circle of friends among the local intelligentsia.

Little was recorded of her ladies’ maid, Sally Naldrett, but this is a book told in her voice—how first Lady Gordon shed her English clothing and mannerisms, and then Sally did. How they both became acclimatized to life in Egypt, learned Arabic, and how Sally felt she had shed her old, lonely maid’s life for a life both warm and passionate. How she outgrew her position of servility alone, and became a woman on her own terms. The story is lightly and quickly told, but develops an urgency in its later pages that belies the sunny outlook of its beginning.

In writing this novel, Kate Pullinger drew on biography of Gordon written by Katherine Frank, called Lucie Duff Gordon: A Passage to Egypt, published in 1995. It was republished in 2007 by Tauris Parke Paperbacks and is said to show the sparkling nature of the vivacious Lady Gordon. A darker side of that character is hinted at in this novel, leaving lingering questions about a widely admired woman whose family shunned her, and who shunned others, brutally and unforgivably, in return. One is eager to turn to the original materials to get to the heart of the matter. One feels sure there is still a novel in the material there, this time from the view of Lady Duff Gordon (1821-1869), whom even the Prince and Princess of Wales came to visit in Luxor when she was too ill to travel.

This is a small, pocket-sized book that will reliably transport you to shores unknown. For the investment (e.g., time, money), this is well worth the dreaming.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading (Paperback Edition)
June 3, 2011 – Shelved
June 10, 2011 – Started Reading
June 10, 2011 – Shelved as: africa
June 10, 2011 – Shelved as: british
June 10, 2011 – Shelved as: fiction
June 10, 2011 – Shelved as: mideast
June 10, 2011 –
page 110
42.97% "This is a wonderful evocation of Egypt before the World wars, and I love the voice and sensibility of the maid. I realize 100 years is not so very long when one is talking of human emotions and the writing of persons of education, but I can't be sure the maid isn't more of today than then."
June 11, 2011 –
page 167
65.23% "Now I want to see the original journals of Lady Gordan Duff, on which this book is premised. When discord in the household is embellished upon, I want to leave--never have I noticed with such clarity that I prefer my fictions happy, rather than dark and discouraging recountings of real human pettiness."
June 11, 2011 – Shelved (Paperback Edition)
June 11, 2011 – Shelved as: adventure (Paperback Edition)
June 11, 2011 – Shelved as: africa (Paperback Edition)
June 11, 2011 – Shelved as: british (Paperback Edition)
June 11, 2011 – Shelved as: fiction (Paperback Edition)
June 11, 2011 – Shelved as: mideast (Paperback Edition)
June 11, 2011 – Shelved as: totally-unexpected (Paperback Edition)
June 11, 2011 – Finished Reading

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