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The Mistress of Nothing: A Novel Hardcover – January 4, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (January 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 143919386X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439193860
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,576,910 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Based on the real Lady Duff Gordon's journey to Egypt with her maid in the mid-19th century, Pullinger's novel brings a broiling desert landscape to life through the eyes of the working classes. Maid Sally Naldrett jumps at the opportunity to travel to the Middle East with her lady, but her fairy tale grows even more exquisite when she falls in love with the lady's interpreter and guide, Omar. The blithe domestic scene takes a turn for the worse when Sally becomes pregnant, much to Lady Duff Gordon's disappointment. As Egypt's lower classes rise up against the tyrannical khedive, Sally's position grows tenuous, forcing her to fend for herself and her half-English, half-Egyptian child in Cairo, a budding tourist town quickly shedding its history. 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. (Jan.)
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Review

"'Absorbing, intimate, a subtle observation of the play of power and love' - Lisa Appignanesi 'The Mistress of Nothing serves up spicy passion and romance and biting social comment in one delicious dish.' - Anthony Sattin, travel writer and journalist 'Scorchingly powerful' - Good Housekeeping 'This is a fascinating, intelligent novel, exploring the snobbery upon which the sun never sets.' - Kate Saunders, The Times" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

More About the Author

I'm a Canadian who has lived in London, England the whole of my adult life. I've written lots of books, and have recently embarked on a programme to get most of my backlist into ebook editions. My new novel, 'Landing Gear' is out with Doubleday Canada, and Simon & Schuster in the USA, in both hardcover and ebook editions initially. In the UK, where I live, 'Landing Gear' is available as ebook only.
'The Mistress of Nothing' was my 'American debut'. In November 2009 'The Mistress of Nothing' won Canada's Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction; this was a huge huge honour for me and my book. I've been having a great time since then, as the GG has raised the profile of the book enormously, and has helped bring it to more readers. I'm hoping that readers who enjoyed 'The Mistress of Nothing' will also enjoy my new novel, 'Landing Gear', though they are very different books.
As well as books, I also collaborate on works of digital fiction, like www.inanimatealice.com and www.flightpaths.net. In 2014 I'm helping co-create a new kind of war memorial, in response to the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War One, Letter to an Unknown Soldier. The project asks everyone who is interested to write a letter to an unknown soldier - go to http://1418NOW.org.uk/letter to find out more.
You can read my blog at www.katepullinger.com. Thanks for your interest!

Customer Reviews

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Well written book that fills in some historical gaps and has a good love story as well.
G. J. Hubbard
What a wonderful upgrade from going to a book store and sometimes having to order the boom and then waiting a week to ten days for it to arrive.
K. E. Hilterman
This little novel packs in much emotion but without hyperbole in its prose or excess tension in plotting.
Marcus Platonus

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Richard Pittman on December 12, 2009
Format: Paperback
The Mistress of Nothing won the 2009 Governor General's Literary Award which is probably Canada's second most important book award. It was chosen over Alice Munro's Too Much Happiness which many would attribute to Ms. Munro simply having won enough awards both Canadian and International.

This novel is largely set in the Egypt of the 1860s. Basically, Sally is a poor girl whose parents have died. She is not wanted by her aunt and both she and her sister end up as maids/assistants for well to do women. Sally's employer, Lady Duff Gordon, has tuberculosis and they must move to a dryer climate. They go to Egypt where they occupy a fine house in Luxor. After this, they learn a lot about the Egyptian people and love the country. there is a very romantic piece to the novel and quite a bit of melodrama. There is scandal and forbidden love and a struggle of wills between tow of the main characters.

It moves along quickly, the prose is very clean and the plot is linear. This is very plot driven and is a very quick read. One blog that I read suggested that it was enjoyable but more of an airplane novel than a prize winner. I concur with that view. If you love romance, period fiction and Egypt then you'll probably enjoy The Mistress of Nothing.

I liked it well enough though it wasn't really my kind of book. I could certainly picture it being made into a Merchant Ivory type of film.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Julie A. Smith on January 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover
In 1862, Sally Naldrett is 30 years old, orphaned at a young age when her parents, Battersea shopkeepers, were killed in a train derailment in Clapham. She and her sister Ellen were sent to live with their Aunt Clara, who, unwilling to feed two more mouths, sent both of them out to service jobs as quickly as she could. Working her way up from a lowly scullery maid, Sally is now lady's maid to Lady Duff Gordon (Lucie), fiercely loyal to her lady, with the belief that ladies' maids do not marry, as their first loyalty is to her lady. She has even turned down offers of marriage because her lady needs her. Her lady treats her well, even having taught her to read and write, which many servants can't do.

Lucie is suffering from consumption, and on the advice of her doctors, is going to live in Egypt for her health. Sally has always dreamed of Egypt, traveling to London on her days off to visit her favorite destination, the Egyptian Sculpture Gallery in the museum there. Lucie and Sally travel without Lucie's family to Egypt, and this is the story of their stay and of the journeys they took while there. Even more, it is a story of Sally becoming a woman of her own while still remaining loyal to her lady and of the slowly unraveling path of loyalty, friendship, and betrayal that Sally experiences.

Based on a true story (part of which is chronicled in Lady Duff's "Letters from Egypt"), and told from Sally's perspective, you will marvel with her at the wonders of Egypt, worry with her about the health of her lady, rejoice with her when she finally gets a taste of her own love, and sorrow for her at the result. Told in wonderfully evocative prose, this is a sweeping tale that will pull you in and not let you go until it's bittersweet end.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Literate Housewife on April 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The Mistress of Nothing came into my reading life at an advantageous time. Just prior to me picking it up, Egypt had overthrown its government. I had also recently watched the first installment of Downton Abbey, a PBS series about British aristocracy and their hired help. These things put me in the perfect mindset to read this novel, which is written from the point of view of Sally Naldrett, the lady maid for Lady Duff Gordon.

Lady Duff Gordon has a terrible case of consumption and, as different climates on the continent were of little help to her, she is forced to leave her family for at least two years to live in the hotter, dryer climate of Egypt. As Lady Duff Gordon's lady maid, Sally had little choice but to travel with her. Luckily, she was excited for the adventure and longed to see her Lady feeling better. While Egypt was literally a world away to the two women, they acclimated as well as could be expected. It was the women's great good luck to encounter, Omar, the man who would become their dragoman, a translator, guide, and all around helper. Soon, they dropped their stays and confining dresses and adopted the dress of the Egyptians. Lady Duff Gordon was soon well enough to entertain both other British nationals as well as local men of a similar station to her own. When she is not ill, Lady Duff Gordon needs very little from Sally and Omar and their relationships, much to Sally's shock, becomes more casual. Sally realizes that traveling to Egypt has given her the opportunity to be treated almost as an important friend, something that never would have occurred were she in England. This time of happiness did not last.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on March 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Winner of the Canadian Governor General's Literary Award, Pullinger's first novel to be published in the US calls on the real-life characters of the consumptive Lady Duff Gordon and her faithful maid Sally to tell a story of adventure, passion and class in the 19th century.

Although the reason behind their journey is not a happy one - Lady Duff Gordon's failing health - narrator Sally is exuberant. Egypt has always held her imagination and, a confirmed spinster at 30, devoted to her mistress, she is excited to be out of dull England and surrounded by an exotic culture.

From the book's first line, we know that Sally has a rude awakening: "The truth is that, to her, I was not fully human."

"She loved me, there's no question of that, and I knew it and had felt secure in it, but it transpired that she loved me like a favored household pet."

But we also know she soldiers on: "Once she cast me out, she could no longer control me. No."

Sally's transgression is to fall in love and worse, have a child. The man is their dragoman - interpreter, guide, general factotum - an Egyptian with a wife and young daughter. As they travel from Alexandria to Cairo and up the Nile to Luxor ("The name itself felt warm in my mouth."), Sally drinks it all in.

Her narration makes everything fresh and colorful and Pullinger incorporates the details of domestic life seamlessly into the excitement of it all. Sally is enchanted by the lemon tree in the garden, the thick black cane syrup they put in their tea, the inactivity of Ramadan, the swaths of blue linen drying above the streets, even the suffocating heat of summer.
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