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The Mistress of Nothing

By Sarah Bruer

The Mistress of Nothing
By Kate Pullinger
(McArthur & Company) $24.95

Here are the true facts upon which this fascinating piece of historical fiction is built: Sally Naldrett, an orphan living in 19th-century Britain, began work as a servant girl, eventually becoming a lady’s maid to author Lady Lucie Duff Gordon. When illness required Duff Gordon to leave her home in England for a more arid climate in Egypt, Naldrett was chosen to accompany her.

A historical account of their voyage was preserved in 1865 through the publication of Duff Gordon’s book Letters from Egypt. What contemporary author Kate Pullinger noticed in reading a biography of Lady Duff Gordon was its references to Sally. Pullinger began to wonder about this woman, and how the story of the voyage might have differed if told from Sally’s perspective. The result is the book The Mistress of Nothing.

From beginning to end, Sally’s voice draws the reader into her captivating story of loss and love, making it hard to put the book down. Pullinger’s recent Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction testifies to the quality of the story.

The Mistress of Nothing leaves its reader thinking long after it has ended: if God created us all equal, then why do some humans have so much while others have so little? What does it mean to love your neighbour as yourself when your neighbour’s ways contradict your own? And how are our life and faith stories affected by the perspective of the person telling them?

Certainly, Sally’s voyage into Egypt as imagined by Kate Pullinger differs from that recorded by Lady Duff Gordon. That’s what makes The Mistress of Nothing such an interesting summer read.

Rev. Sarah Bruer is minister at Rundle Memorial United in Banff, Alta.
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