Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Mistress of Nothing

by Kate Pullilnger

Another historical fiction told from the viewpoint of a servant. This book is based on Letters From Egypt by Lady Lucie Duff Gordon, which details Lady Gordon's necessary escape from England's damp, wet climate to the hot, dry conditions of Egypt. Her her lady's maid, Sally Naldrett eagerly joins the journey. Sally describes much of their travel, the constant battle Lady Gordon faces with her health, social and political aspects of Egypt and her own encounters that have several unfortunate consequences.

The Mistress of Nothing mainly depicts issues related to class and status during the mid-1800's. I found it interesting how both cultures were very driven by similar social rankings and the obvious advantages available to those in the upper echelon. These systems provided almost no movement between groups. The information about tomb robbing and glimpses of Egypt as a modern world trying to grow up between antiquities and ancient architecture also intrigued me.

The basic plot was rather predictable; based on the title one can insinuate where the novel is headed.  Although I've sat on this book a few days before writing this summary, I still can't pinpoint how much of a recommendation I'd give. This year I have read several novels I'd definitely suggest first, but if you're caught up and interested in this era and another class distinction type novel, this is a pretty good read.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Orphan Sister

by Gwendolen Gross

The Orphan Sister tries to let the reader in on the intricate relationship among triplets, where two are identical and the third is fraternal; the "orphan" who serves as narrator. This is also a story about a young woman's struggle to find her own identity and fulfill her desires and goals even though she doesn't seem quite sure what those are.  In this regard, the fact that Clementine is one of three seems to contribute to her own indecision and lack of self confidence. The confusion of the main character regarding her life bled into the format of the story, which led to oft confusing flashbacks that overpowered the present storyline.

The book had several issues that I found unappealing. The main character really sabotaged herself and her relationships with her sisters and her mother, and she was whiny about them. She came across as flighty, indecisive and somewhat of a rebellious teen when she was supposed to be nearly 30 and applying to vet school. The father was totally unbelievable, as was her relationship with him and her conversations and responses to him throughout the book. I just couldn't buy the outcome of the situation with the father (I won't spoil it for you).

Another problem for the author was conveying that particular bond among the three girls. The author repeatedly explained the specialness of the interactions and communications among them, but their actual dealings came across strained and awkward. Whereas I think her intent was to show a unique attachment, she just couldn't pull it off.  Dialogue seemed forced and not really particular to triplets.

Finally, I thought the ending was too tidy. In some instances a story calls for everything to be wrapped up nice and neat. In this one, I think some things would have been better left unsaid. Ms. Gross wanted so badly to leave no loose ends and to have a feel-good ending. Unfortunately, this was a story that really couldn't and shouldn't have had a happily ever after.