Saturday, 30 April 2011
The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger
This was a slow-burning kind of book. It started with languid descriptions about floating on the river Nile, visiting the ancient monuments and casting off heavy English clothes for Egyptian dress. I felt as though I was in baking Egypt, made tired and languid by the sun myself. We also witness the slow process of Lady Duff Gordon and Sally leaving behind the shackles of the rigid conventions of English life - they begin to take meals together, learn Arabic together, and entertain the local villagers as well as visiting Europeans. The reader can feel Sally getting swept up in all of this, getting carried away by it into thinking that Lady Duff Gordon has become a friend as well as an employer.
Without revealing what happens in the middle of the story (although it isn't hard to guess), Sally is soon dramatically reminded that it's not that easy to rid yourself of snobbery. The book changes pace dramatically, and this was cleverly done by Pullinger as it really captures Sally's shock. Even in Egypt, Lady Duff Gordon still holds all of the power and is capable of making Sally's life a misery. And once Sally is cast-out, we see a different kind of Egypt, one full of seedy hotels for seedy European tourists, and with as many restrictions and hierarchies as England.
I really enjoyed reading this one. I liked that it didn't have a completely happy ending (that would have been unrealistic), and I liked how Pullinger played on the inner snob inside of all of us. I definitely enjoyed the historical setting, the three dimensional characters, and I'll be reading Lady Duff Gordon's original letters home from Egypt soon.
Verdict: A slow burner, but with a sting at the end.
Score: 4 out of 5