**I received this novel courtesy of Penguin Publishing in exchange for my honest review**
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.
Miss Emily is a story both beautifully simplistic and plainly genuine.
For a book that lacks in the epic action department, I found myself quite invested from the first page. The simple language in which it is written makes Miss Emily an easy read (for a story taking place in the 1800’s), and the shortness of it being 239 pages helps encourage binge reading. The alternating chapters written from Emily Dickenson’s point of view intrigued me the most. O’Connor did a beautiful job of recreating Emily Dickenson’s mind and bringing its innocence and marvel to life. Emily’s chapters look at the world in a very poetic way that I found fascinating to read about. Keeping in mind the fact that despite the many non-fictional characters, this is a fictional story, I loved how O’Connor was able to subtly display the inspirations for Emily’s poetry, and the mindset behind Emily’s choice to live secluded – among other seemingly queer decisions. I even found Emily to be very relatable to the point where I would pick up this book for consolation.
On the other hand, we have alternating chapters written from the Irish maid, Ada’s perspective. Ada’s story of travelling to a new country and facing the hardships of starting a new foreign life decently balanced out Emily’s chapters of living in her own head. Now, I didn’t find Ada nearly as poetic to read about, but the slowly developing, mild action of her story kept me just interested enough to want to know where her story was headed. I only wish that the friendship connecting Emily and Ada was emphasized more, because I found that for a decent portion of the book, I was reading two completely different stories.
The ending of Miss Emily was both satisfying and charming, but nothing extraordinary. This is the type of book where the journey is more important than the destination, and I was glad to have taken that journey. When reading this, don’t expect a lot of action (though there are a couple big events), but rather expect intriguing insight to the possible mindset of Emily Dickenson, friendship, romance, abuse, and even some poetry.