‘The Mistress of Nothing’ by Kate Pullinger

It was the setting of Luxor, Egypt that attracted me to ‘The Mistress of Nothing’. We plan to travel there in March. It is based on the true story of Lady Lucie Duff Gordon, an English writer (“Letters from Egypt”) who moved to Egypt from England in the 1800’s because she was suffering from tuberculosis and needed a warmer climate. She fell in love with the land and its people and cast off her British ways along with her high collars and stays. She brought with her a devoted maid who also changed in many ways, but was not in the end afforded the same leeway by Lady Gordon. Strangely, the Victorian aristocratic notions prevailed and Sally, the maid, was cast out for following her heart in the new land. Or were there other reasons for her surprising reaction to her maid’s predicament, not at all consistent with her actions or character? The answer is deliciously unclear so you can speculate on your own.

‘The Mistress of Nothing’  won the Governor General’s Award in 2009 and is a captivating armchair travelogue with a decent story line. The exotic ancient setting and exploration of that time period, both Egyptian and English, make it a good piece of historical fiction.

The words on the back cover of the book sum it up well. “Sally and Lady Duff Gordon throw themselves into their exotic surrounding, adopting native dress, learning Arabic, and visiting the tombs of ancient pharaohs. Along the way, Sally comes to experience freedoms she as a servant, has never known before, as well as her first taste of romance. But freedom is a luxury that a maid can ill afford, and when Sally grasps far more than status entitles her to, she is brutally reminded that she is mistress of nothing.”

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