Nuala O'Connor's enchanting American debut novel, Miss Emily, reimagines the private life of Emily Dickinson, one of America's most beloved poets, through her own voice and through the eyes of her family's Irish maid.
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.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-06-22
- Reviewer: Staff
O'Connor brings one of America's most beloved poets to life in this novel, which enters into the mind of Emily Dickinson as she retreats into a reclusive life amongst her parents and sister at their estate, the Homestead in Amherst, Mass., in the 1860s. O'Connor has conjured a fictional confidant for Emily in Ada Concannon, a headstrong 18-year-old Irish maid, who is hired by the Dickinson family on the day she arrives in town. The story unfolds as chapters alternate between first-person accounts by Emily and Ada. Emily grapples with her introversion and her chosen escape of writing: "The rustling passions of life are contained more truly for me in the words of poetry than in the everyday world." Ada greets stablehand Daniel Byrne, "trying to be a little formal, but something about him makes my mouth twitch and beam"—and just like that, a courtship begins. O'Connor is a gifted writer; not only does she bring a believable sense of poetry (clay is "deathly cool around my fingers") and self-assurance to Emily, she is also capable of conveying complex feeling succinctly, a talent shared by her historical heroine. The fascinating story also touches on issues of class and race. One wishes O'Connor would have done more to bring out Emily's interior life, but the reader is nonetheless pulled into the story. This novel has the possibility of being a book club juggernaut. Agent: Gráinne Fox, Fletcher and Company. (July)