Title: The Mistress of Nothing
Author: Kate Pullinger
Release Date: January 4, 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
When Lady Duff Gordon decides that she must go to Egypt for her health, her maid, Sally Naldrett is eager to go along with her mistress. Sally has been with Lady Gordon since she was just a scullery maid, and she has managed to work her way up to Lady Gordon’s lady in waiting. When Sally and Lady Duff Gordon arrive in Egypt, they fall in love with the peculiarities of the country, but what Sally doesn’t know is that her life will change drastically as a result from the choices she makes there.
The Mistress of Nothing is a quiet historical fiction novel about an English maid’s life in Egypt. From the beginning, the reader knows that something is going to destroy the idyllic life that Sally and Lady Duff Gordon are leading, and it is this that drives the book forward. Otherwise it moves forward at a languorous, but enjoyable pace, and readers will find comfort in the peace and quiet of this novel.
The historical background of this novel is very interesting; Egypt was in turmoil at this period in history (the 1860s) and Pullinger doesn’t shy away from it. Indeed, because the novel is based on actual people, Pullinger uses the real text of Lady Duff Gordon’s letters in the book. It’s fascinating to see what the British thought of the Egyptians. The class differences between Sally and Lady Duff Gordon are also interesting to see – though Sally has devoted her life to Lady Gordon, she doesn’t realize how disposable she is. It’s sad to read about, as the reader comes to care for Sally over the course of the book and wishes for her happiness.
Pullinger’s writing is spare and clean; this isn’t a book of vivid descriptions or flowery prose. She is very matter-of-fact; while her writing isn’t severe or stark, it is bare. It works well with the quiet nature of the novel, especially with its romantic aspects. It makes the book a very quick, easy read.
I enjoyed The Mistress of Nothing; it’s a basic book, but it’s well written and engaging. Sally is an appealing characters that readers will come to sympathize with. Though it’s a quiet novel, it never loses the reader’s interest and it picks up pace in the last half of the book. Fans of historical fiction, especially with a little romance thrown in, should definitely consider picking up this book.