Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Miss Emily by Nuala O'Connor

3 Star

Eighteen-year-old Ada Concannon has just been hired by the respected but eccentric Dickinson family of Amherst, Massachusetts. Despite their difference in age and the upstairs-downstairs divide, Ada strikes up a deep friendship with Miss Emily, the gifted elder daughter living a spinster’s life at home. But Emily’s passion for words begins to dominate her life. She will wear only white and avoids the world outside the Dickinson homestead. When Ada’s safety and reputation are threatened, however, Emily must face down her own demons in order to help her friend, with shocking consequences.

Kaley- 3 Star

Everything I knew about Emily Dickinson could basically be summed up in one word: poet. If pressed, I would have made an educated guess that she was American. So, because of my limited knowledge on the famous poet, I was looking forward to reading Nuala O’Connor's novel Miss Emily. Key word: was. There was something about this novel that just fell flat for me.

I did enjoy getting to learn more about a young Dickinson, albeit a fictionalized version of her. I liked reading about her home life which, as I learned, was really what her life centred around (other than poetry, of course). She was such an introvert and disliked leaving the house. This allowed for some drama as there were times throughout the novel where you expect her to go out and be social but she doesn't.  Would she ever leave if the occasion desperately called for it?

I hate to admit it but, as the story wore on, I really didn't care too much about Emily. Her storyline wasn't the one that captivated me in this novel and she didn't interest me as much as Ada did. I don't know if Ada's personality attracted me more simply because she was more interesting or because O'Connor had more leeway to create the character. Because Emily Dickinson is a well known historical figure, O'Connor would not have been able to treat her as a character as she could Ada.

I'm a Downton Abbey fan so I really liked the upstairs/downstairs vibe the novel had. I liked being able to see how the Dickinsons' lived and, at the same time, learn how Ada had to make it in the world and what her upbringing was like. Furthering this feeling was the fact that each chapter alternated perspectives between Emily and Ada.

Looking at the reviews for Miss Emily, it seems like I'm in the minority with my lukewarm feelings. Many others have enjoyed Nuala O’Connor's novel. I think it would be a good read for those who enjoy the time period (mid-1800s) and stories with a below/above stairs dynamic. 

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for our review copy. All opinions are our own.

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