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The Mistress of Nothing Paperback – Aug 10 2009

4.0 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: McArthur & Co; 1st Edition edition (Aug. 10 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1552787982
  • ISBN-13: 978-1552787984
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 14 x 21 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 136 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #335,525 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"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."

“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)

From the Publisher

Winner of the 2009 Governor General's Literary Award for English language fiction.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Hardcover
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.

When Sarah, a lady's maid, accompanies her ailing mistress to Egypt, they enter into a world completely different than England. As they assimilate into the culture, and shed their corsets along with some confining rules of English society, the two women become comfortable in their new surrounds. When Sally falls in love with Omar, her lady's dragoman, the idyllic life they enjoy begins to unravel. Sally is faced with some hard decisions when she realizes she risks losing everything.

The Mistress of Nothing was shortlisted for the Giller Prize and won the Governor General's Award for Fiction in Canada in 2009. To read this novel was pure enjoyment. A poignant description of 19th century social values and prejudices prevalent, the reader is swept into the exotic world of 19th century Egypt. The author skillfully drew me into the story, creating romantic suspense as Sally's life unfolds with unanticipated turbulence. It kept me on the edge of my seat, turning pages.
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