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Mistress Of Nothing [Paperback]

Kate Pullinger
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug. 13 2010
Lady Duff Gordon is the toast of Victorian London society. But when her debilitating tuberculosis means exile, she and her devoted lady's maid, Sally, set sail for Egypt. It is Sally who describes, with a mixture of wonder and trepidation, the odd menage (marshalled by the resourceful Omar) that travels down the Nile to a new life in Luxor. When Lady Duff Gordon undoes her stays and takes to native dress, throwing herself into weekly salons, language lessons and excursions to the tombs, Sally too adapts to a new world, which affords her heady and heartfelt freedoms never known before. But freedom is a luxury that a maid can ill-afford, and when Sally grasps more than her status entitles her to, she is brutally reminded that she is mistress of nothing. 
**Winner of the Governor General's Award for Fiction in 2009

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"A subtle observation of the play of power and love" (Lisa Appignanesi)

"gritty, moving, and utterly believable" (Globe and Mail)

“Pullinger has created a compelling study of love in all its guises. The relationships are gritty, complicated by duty and caste: mother and son, husband and (multiple) wives, and the interaction between a lady and her mistress.” (Quill & Quire)

"The Mistress of Nothing serves up spicy passion and romance and biting social comment in one delicious dish. Kate Pullinger's fascinating novel brings 1860s Cairo and Luxor to life, not as an Orientalist fantasy, but as they might actually have been." (Anthony Sattin)

“I couldn't stop reading this wonderful book and was sad when it was over. Kate Pullinger's skill is to make you feel like the confidante of her strong and unconventional heroine as she journeys down the Nile into the greatest adventure of her life. Highly recommended.” (Julia Gregson, author of East of the Sun)

"Pullinger is equally unerring at conveying the subtle cruelties of power relationships and the incremental dawnings of love and affection. Coupled with this is an almost painterly ability to depict an Egypt alternately parched and sumptuous – both literally and metaphorically." (Metro (London))

"Incorporating actual quotes from the real Lady Duff Gordon's letters, and endowing Sally with tremendous character, Pullinger successfully imagines an ordinary life in extraordinary circumstances." (Publishers Weekly)

"Tantilizing. . . Sally's observations. . .bring this lost world to life." (The New York Times Book Review)

From the Publisher

Winner of the 2009 Governor General's Literary Award for English language fiction. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
By Mrs. Q: Book Addict TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Title: The Mistress of Nothing
Author: Kate Pullinger
Publisher: McArthur & Company
Pages: 248
Source: Publisher

'The Mistress of Nothing' was a riveting tale. Sally's parents died when she was young. Sally's aunt was unable or chose not to care for her and sent her to work. Both she and her sister began working as maid's for well to do women. Sally eventually begins working for Lady Duff Gordon. When Lady Duff Gordon is stricken with tuberculosis she is exiled to Egypt . Accompanying her is Sally. Lady Duff Gordon is hoping the dryer, warmer weather will be favourable in her condition making it easier to breath and prolonging her life. The story takes place mostly in Egypt, and a new life begins for both Sally and Lady Duff Gordon.

Sally sees herself as a spinster, although she doesn't know when this happened. She is now thirty and not married. She is devoted to Lady Duff Gordon and believes that she will always be her protector. Eventually, Lady Duff Gordon and Sally are forced to unfasten their constricted english clothing and settle for lighter, cooler Egyptian clothing. The two of them become accustomed to life in Egypt, adapting to the lifestyles and language. Omar is hired to help the ladies, and teach the ways of life in Egypt. Sally falls in love with married Omar and becomes pregnant. Sally is sure that Lady Duff Gordon will continue to protect her, since she has helped many in her situation before. Omar has decided he will marry Sally, as Egyptian law will allow him two wives. Fellow Egyptians are not scandalized, they are accepting of Sally. What happens next is not expected. Lady Duff Gordon is appalled by Sally's actions.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars well written, not very satisfying Sept. 16 2010
By Andrea
In 1865, Lady Lucie Duff Gordon's Letters From Egypt were published, telling of her experiences as well-respected English woman forced to relocate to a warmer climate in order to survive tuberculosis. In her letters, she mentions Sally, her lady's maid, but gives very little information about her. With this novel, Kate Pullinger attempts to fill that gap and tell Sally's story.

The story is well written; I really liked Pullinger's sparse style. The premise was interesting and I loved the way Sally's first view of Egypt from their boat was described. Her sense of awe and her joy were conveyed perfectly. I also really enjoyed all of the details of Egyptian life.

A couple of elements made the book unsatisfying, despite the good writing. First, the love story between Sally and Omar seemed unrealistic. There wasn't any build-up leading to it, it just happened and even though Sally is aware that Omar is already married, that fact never really comes into play until very late in the story. That left me wondering the entire time, 'But what about...?' In addition, Lady Duff Gordon's reaction to Sally and Omar's relationship seems very inconsistent with the way her character was developed throughout the novel and is never explained. In the end, I was left with more questions than any resolutions to the story.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Through the Looking Glass of History July 23 2010
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Canadian novelist Kate Pullinger has written a real winner of a novel in her latest creation, "The Mistress of Nothing". This story offers the reader a chance to look at the values of Victorian society as they play out in the life of an English maid, Sally, who is experiencing the first time the freedom of living in another culture. Based on an interpretation of the diaries of Lady Lucie Duff Gordon's travels to the Egypt in the late 1860s, Pullinger retells her harrowing adventure through the personal observations and wonderment of her devoted servant who has never travelled abroad before. Lady Gordon is a desperately sick woman in search of a cure for her consumption and relies on Sally and her other household servants for her every need. It will not be long before a tension forms between the pull of English society and that of the Levantine. The opportunities of the Nile will gradually seduce Sally into adopting a new lifestyle that will put at serious odds with her accustomed upbringing. This historical fiction is full of moments where the reader gets to share in the delight Sally feels as she encounters a culture that is vastly different from the prim and proper one she has just left in England. Being the curious and innocent type that she is, Sally longs to meet people, learn their language, and see the sights of an ancient world. Holding her back, however, is her obligation to her ladyship for giving her a respectable station in life. Eventually her duty to the tyrannical demands of her mistress will conflict with her growing love for Omar, an Egyptian man who acts as Lady Gordon's butler. Out of that love affair comes a child who then becomes the new focus of her affections as she seeks to make a life for him in a strange land that is so opposite to what she is used to. Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I liked this July 13 2010
For me, it was more than just a story - there was a real history here describing what life was actually like at the turn of the century.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging read Sept. 23 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I chose this book because I heard on CBC it had something to do with Brooks, Alberta and I work in Brooks part-time. In recent years Brooks has experienced an influx of people from Africa, largely Sudanese and there have been some issues resulting from cultural differences. What I liked about The Mistress of Nothing is the way in which the two women embraced a new culture, even to the point of dressing, eating, and speaking in the way of the Eygptian people. I also enjoyed the strong central character who acted in ways true to herself rather than to the conventions of the day. It was difficult to relate to the employer who seemed to believe she owned those that worked for her, a form of slavery in my opinion. She became a true tyrant over the course of the book. Ultimately the central character was in fact the mistress of something in the end - herself.
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