Review: Miss Emily

Posted 21 December, 2015 by Lianne in Books / 0 Comments

Miss Emily
By: Nuala O’Connor
Format/Source: Paperback; won from a Twitter contest held by @PenguinPbks

Emily Dickinson’s life is reimagined in her own voice and through eyes of a young Irish maid—an enchanting novel in the spirit of Longbourn and Mrs. Poe

Ada Concannon’s first day in America is a success. She’s the new maid for the respected but eccentric Dickinson family of Amherst, Massachusetts. Despite the differences in age and class, eighteen-year-old Ada, “a neat little Irish person, fresh off the boat,” strikes up a deep friendship with Miss Emily, the gifted elder daughter living a spinster’s life at home. Emily is a bastion of support as Ada struggles to find her place in this new world, while Ada’s toil gives Emily the freedom she needs to write.

But Emily’s passion for words begins to dominate her life. She decides to wear nothing but white and increasingly avoids the outside world. When Ada’s safety and reputation are threatened, however, Emily faces down her own demons in order to help her friend, with shocking consequences.

I think this is the first historical fiction novel I’ve encountered featuring Emily Dickinson. She’s a fascinating figure whose life was very much different from her contemporaries and her poetry is interesting (review). The reviews I had come across were generally positive so I was keeping a lookout for this novel. I was pleasantly surprised to have won a copy of this book frm a contest held by @PenguinPbks. May contain mild spoilers ahead!

Miss Emily was an interesting novel about Emily Dickenson’s friendship with her family’s new maid, Ada Concannon, recently arrived to the United States from Ireland. It’s an interesting friendship as Ada is young, outspoken, and vivacious for life whereas Emily is older and much more introverted, contented with her thoughts and her writings and the few choice friends she had. But it’s a wonderful friendship in that Emily is very supportive of her young friend, regardless of age and class, which became especially important after Ada’s attack.

The author does a wonderful job in bringing the characters to life. I thoroughly cared for both main characters and their respective plights. Ada is so young and kind and so welcoming that it was sad to read what happened to her, of someone taking advantage of her the way he did. I loved Emily’s chapters partly because I identified with her feelings of being perfectly contented with her simple life and her exhaustion with mingling in society. It’s just so much in keeping with being an introvert, and Emily is a very definitive case of being one. I also love the reflections on her writing and how important it is to her. I did feel as though this contrast between Ada and Emily sort of fell the weyside once the conflict regarding Ada’s safety and person comes to the fore, but it does show how far Emily is willing to go to help a friend despite of her own qualms about putting herself out there for people notice.

I don’t know what else to say about this novel, the setting and the characters were wonderful and brought to life by the author’s writing; I thought Emily’s family was an intriguing unit, and there was one character who was absolute scum. I did find myself scratching my head a bit about Emily’s friendship with Susan; I understand where Susan is coming from in encouraging her to go out more, and I understand (as Emily does) that Susan is obviously very different from Emily and has her own family issues and priorities to deal with, but sometimes I wondered why they were friends to begin with, she didn’t seem to be very supportive whenever she was hanging out with Emily *shrugs* But anyway.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Miss Emily. It felt pretty straightforward, though perhaps it felt that way because I was reading in anxiety for the first half as to how Ada’s “safety and reputation are threatened” (which became evident pretty quickly as to what it would be), but it was an interesting read, I enjoyed reading about Emily and Ada’s friendship here. Readers of historical fiction will want to check this title out 🙂

Rating: ★★★½☆

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