Review: The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger

Sally has been Lady Duff Gordon’s lady’s maid for years. She’s devoted and dutiful. When Lady Duff Gordon’s illness becomes life threatening, and she has to move to Egypt and a drier climate, Sally is excited. She’s always loved the Egyptian wing at the museum, and to go to live in the land itself is a dream come true.

Lady Duff Gordon soon adjusts to her new life, changing her way of dress and gathering a salon of locals to converse with. Sally adjusts too and even finds love. But when Lady Duff Gordon discovers Sally’s indiscretion, she banishes Sally from her sight and takes away everything, proving that Sally is really the mistress of nothing.

This book was quite a journey, and not just because of the hoops I had to jump through to read it. For those of you who are new, the original copy I bought turned into another book, Oscar Wilde and the Vampire Murders, at page 203. Luckily, Thrift Books sent me a new copy so I was able to finish it. And I really enjoyed this book.

Sally is such an interesting character. She’s been a maid all her life, ever since her parents died and her aunt sent her into service. Sally knows the ins and outs and genuinely loves her employer. She’s also adventurous and intelligent and has a keen interest in the world around her. When she gets to Egypt, she immerses herself in the culture, adopting the language and the style of dress as her own.

Lady Duff Gordon was interesting as well, although much less likable. Based on the real Lady Duff Gordon (whom I’d never heard of, but now am interested in learning more about), she’s also fiercely intelligent and penned in by her station just as much as Sally is. Of course, Lady Duff Gordon manages to find ways to subvert her station and not lose everything. She writes books, holds salons, dresses the way she wants, and is celebrated for being different.

I was very frustrated with the way she treats Sally after all is revealed. She refuses to see Sally and demands she leave the country. She feels betrayed, but her reaction felt over the top. I especially couldn’t understand her insistence that Sally leave Egypt; Lady Duff Gordon fired her. Why did it matter if Sally stayed or not? I genuinely couldn’t understand and know it’s a difference in time and class, but it puzzled me greatly.

Overall, I thought this story was very good. It was peaceful and flowing. There wasn’t a lot of action, but a lot happens. I loved the characters and really felt for Sally and her plight.