Summary and book reviews of The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger

The Mistress of Nothing

A Novel

by Kate Pullinger

The Mistress of Nothing
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2011, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2011, 256 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Karen Rigby

Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

The American debut of an award-winning novel about a lady's maid's awakening as she journeys from the confines of Victorian England to the uncharted far reaches of Egypt's Nile Valley.

When Lady Duff Gordon, paragon of London society, departs for the hot, dry climate of Egypt to seek relief from her debilitating tuberculosis, her lady's maid, Sally, doesn't hesitate to leave the only world she has known in order to remain at her mistress's side. As Sally gets farther and farther from home, she experiences freedoms she has never known - forgoing corsets and wearing native dress, learning Arabic, and having her first taste of romance.

But freedom is a luxury that a lady's maid can ill afford, and when Sally's new-found passion for life causes her to forget what she is entitled to, she is brutally reminded she is mistress of nothing. Ultimately she must choose her master and a way back home - or a way to an unknown future.

Based on the real lives of Lady Duff Gordon and her maid, The Mistress of Nothing is a lush, erotic, and compelling story about the power of race, class, and love.

1.

The truth is that, to her, I was not fully human.

I was not a complete person and it was this thought, or rather, this lack of thought, that compelled her, allowed her, to act as she did. 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. I was part of the background, the scenery; when she entertained, I was a useful stage prop. She treated her staff well and I was the closest to her; I did everything for her in those last years. I was chosen to accompany her on her final, long journey. But I was not a real person to her, not a true soul with all the potential for grace and failure that implies. My error was to not recognize this, to not understand this from the very beginning. When I did wrong, I was dismissed, I was no longer of use to her. No, worse than that - I was excised, cut out, as though I'd become part of her dreadful disease, a rotting, malignant supernumerary limb that...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
This reading group guide for The Mistress of Nothing includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Kate Pullinger. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction
When Lady Duff Gordon, a member of the English social elite, comes down with a debilitating illness that requires exile to a dryer climate, she and her maid, Sally Naldrett, set sail for Egypt. Through Sally's keen and floral narration, Egypt is painted as a place of wonder - of luxuries and freedoms not ...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Pullinger's imagined account, inspired by the real lives of Lady Duff Gordon and her maid, reveals fascinating strengths as well as weaknesses in both women, positing neither as being "right" or "wrong," but asking readers to consider the delicate differences between kindness and cruelty, honor and respect. Steeped as it is in Victorian sensibilities, the novel is a shaded, well-considered portrait of emotional betrayal, revealing what happens when a trusted person thinks too little – or too much – of someone else.   (Reviewed by Karen Rigby).

Full Review Members Only (603 words).

Media Reviews

Library Journal

While the setting is lovingly and sensuously portrayed, the characters lack the depth and development that would engage the readers' interest; instead they remain somewhat unsympathetic and uninvolving.

Publishers Weekly

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.

The Independent (UK)

Pullinger's narrative flows as smoothly as the Nile whose density and odour she seductively evokes.

The Guardian (UK)

The heat and exoticism of 19th-century Egypt are convincingly conjured, but the narrative is less successful in evoking a powerful sense of the conventions and expectations of its time, not only socially but morally and politically, so that the full impact of Sally’s story fails to hit home.

The Globe and Mail (Canada)

For me, The Mistress of Nothing soars only when Sally - and Kate Pullinger - break altogether from the clutches of Lucie Duff Gordon and the fetters of the historical record.

Reader Reviews

Joann

Lame
This book was so bad I could not finish it. Ugh.

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

Lady Duff Gordon

Lady Duff Gordon Born on June 24, 1821, Lucie Duff Gordon was the daughter of John Austin, a former army man and legal scholar, and Sarah Austin (daughter of John Taylor of Norwich), a respected translator. Lucie was schooled in Germany during her early years, and demonstrated an aptitude for languages. As an only child, she was frequently in the presence of her parents' literary friends, and regarded John Stuart Mill (the future philosopher), whom her father tutored, as family. When she was fifteen her father was posted to Malta and she was sent to an English boarding school. Two years later her parents returned to England and Lucie, now almost eighteen, started to move about in society, meeting Sir Alexander Duff Gordon soon after.

By the ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The Mistress of Nothing, try these:

  • Remarkable Creatures jacket

    Remarkable Creatures

    by Tracy Chevalier

    Published 2010

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    A voyage of discoveries, a meeting of two remarkable women, and an extraordinary time and place enrich bestselling author Tracy Chevalier's enthralling new novel.

  • Down the Nile jacket

    Down the Nile

    by Rosemary Mahoney

    Published 2008

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    In 1998 Rosemary Mahoney took a solo trip down the Nile in a seven-foot rowboat. This is the unforgettable story of her trip down the world's most historic river, overcoming both cultural and natural challenges.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Boy Erased
    Boy Erased
    by Garrard Conley
    Growing up in rural Arkansas, Garrard Conley did not quite fit the mold of his strait-laced, ...
  • Book Jacket: The Bones of Grace
    The Bones of Grace
    by Tahmima Anam
    The Bones of Grace completes Tahmima Anam's Bangladesh trilogy. The three novels, which can be ...
  • Book Jacket
    Find Me Unafraid
    by Kennedy Odede, Jessica Posner
    With staggering emotional weight and keen awareness of love and humanity even in the darkest places,...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Book That Matters Most
    by Ann Hood

    An enthralling novel about love, loss, secrets and friendship.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Underground Airlines
    by Ben Winters

    "The Invisible Man meets Blade Runner in this outstanding alternate history thriller." - PW Star

    Read Member Reviews

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
This Must Be the Place
by Maggie O'Farrell

An irresistible love story for fans of Beautiful Ruins and Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Lady Cop Makes Trouble

The Kopp Sisters Return!

One of the nation's first female deputy sheriffs returns in another gripping adventure based on fact.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Manners M (T) M

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
X

Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!



Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.