Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor

23398782C.J. from ebookclassics was kind enough to pass along her copy of Miss Emily to me after she was done reading it (her review). She had a hunch it might be something I would like, and she was right. Thanks, C.J.!

I read Miss Emily way back in July on one of our camping trips, and it was the perfect book to take with me. The chapters alternate between Emily Dickinson and her housemaid, Ada, making for a quick and engaging read. I got to learn more about Emily Dickinson’s life with her family, her ever-increasing resistance to leaving her house, her propensity to wear the colour white, her moods, and her obsession with words.

At night, when I am not too bone weary, I dream. I would love to live in the softer planet of dreams. But if I cannot live in dreamworlds… then I am content to invent parallel worlds. Places of the imagination that I alone can inhabit. And these destinations are made of words.

The rustling passions of life are contained more truly for me in words of poetry than in the everyday world. Life, as lived, is so desolate at times.

Emily befriends her new housemaid, Ada, who has recently arrived from Ireland. Emily’s family, and her friend Susan, are not entirely comfortable with the friendship between them. Ada is both Irish and a servant; two good reasons to show superiority instead of friendship. But, after Ada finds herself in need of some help, Emily is determined to go against her family and stand up for her.

It strikes me that perhaps it is not possible even to know another, no matter how much we long to.

25916834Miss Emily is short and sweet; I think if you are interested at all in Emily Dickinson, or reading about unlikely friendships and class divisions and the roles of women in the mid-1800s, you would enjoy this book.

… I wondered if freedom is possible for anyone in this life or if we are all doomed to imprisonment one way or another. But no, I thought, there is always hope. It may be small and bald at first, but then it gathers feathers to itself and flies on robust wings.

Bonus: This book describes the making of several kinds of yummy cake; it might be worth reading just for the baking that goes on. When they were making Emily’s birthday cake (a Black Cake), for the first time in my life, I was craving a fruitcake.


32 thoughts on “Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor

  1. Claire 'Word by Word' says:

    I’m looking forward to reading this, I really enjoyed reading her novel The Closet of Savage Mementos written as Nuala Ní Chonchúir, Miss Emily as an interesting follow on to the themes of that previous book has been written using her original birth name Nuala O’Connor.

  2. kimbofo says:

    Ah, Claire’s beaten me to it: I was going to suggest you hunt out her work under her Irish name. I’ve reviewed both The Closet of Savage Mementos and her debut novel You on my blog.

  3. ebookclassics says:

    I really liked how Emily and Ada bonded in the kitchen and I would always get hungry during those baking sessions! I thought it was so interesting how Emily didn’t care about class or where Ada was from at all. She really saw Ada as a whole person and someone she cared about and trusted.

    • Naomi says:

      Emily seemed to me to be almost desperate for a friend, someone to hang out with in the kitchen (when she wasn’t in one of her funks).
      What did you think of her friendship with Susan? Was it just me, or did they seem *really* close?

      • ebookclassics says:

        Yes, I agree there was something a little more to Emily’s relationship to Susan. Almost like she was in love with Susan …?

      • Naomi says:

        I wondered about that… especially because it was clear she had no interest in marriage. Do you think the author was hinting at something that she didn’t really know was true, but could have been entirely possible?

      • ebookclassics says:

        WordPress won’t let me continue our above conversation. I do think the author was hinting at something about Emily, but I’m not familiar with Emily’s history to know whether there was any evidence of this being a possibility or if it’s merely the author’s speculation/imagination.

  4. Bellezza says:

    When I was in college one of my dear friends gave me a collection of a Emily Dickenson’s poems, and so I eagerly accepted the ARC of Miss Emily as i wanted to know more about her life. I haven’t read it yet, (!) but I’m glad to know you liked it so much. I’m sure I will, too.

    • Naomi says:

      If you already know a lot about her, then you might be disappointed. But, the story itself makes it a good book. Learning a bit about Emily D. makes it that much more interesting. I hope you like it!

  5. Cathy746books says:

    I am nearly finished this one and am loving it. I went to the Dublin launch of the book last week and Nuala O’Connor had baked loads of cakes to Emily’s recipes for us to eat. Yum! I’m finding the writing to be really beautiful and would recommend You if you are interested in her other work.

  6. Karen says:

    I read this a few months ago (but still haven’t reviewed it – bad blogger), and I had mixed reactions to it. I found it a little hard to get into at first, but then I was completed enthralled by Dickenson and it made me want to read a biography about her. However, the novel’s ending made me crave more – somehow it felt a little too rushed. Maybe that’s just a testament to how great the story was!

    • Naomi says:

      I wanted more, too. But, I think that adding more would have made finding the right place to end the book more difficult.
      It also made me want to know more about Emily D. for sure. If you hear of any good biographies about her, let me know!

  7. Shaina says:

    This sounds fascinating—I want to read more books about friendship, particularly female friendships, but many don’t appeal!—and I do love a book that throws in a lot of delicious food! I may just keep an eye out for it. 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      This friendship was interesting because of the race and class difference between the two friends. I think you would like it! It’s not for RIP X, though. 🙂

  8. Kat says:

    It sounds charming. I have a weakness for novels about famous writers. I love Emily Dickinson and a book like this would send me back to the poems!

  9. TJ @ MyBookStrings says:

    I’ve seen this book floating around, but up until now had little interest in reading it, mostly because the last several “fictional biographies” I haven’t really liked. But it sounds like I should give this one a try, especially since there’s cake. (The temperatures are dropping, so my oven usage will increase.)

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