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February 2011 BOTM: The Mistress of Nothing: A Novel by Kate Pullinger

A monthly discussion on varying themes guided by our members. (Book of the Month discussions through December 2011 can be found in this section too.)
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boswellbaxter
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February 2011 BOTM: The Mistress of Nothing: A Novel by Kate Pullinger

Post by boswellbaxter » Wed February 2nd, 2011, 2:02 pm

Please discuss The Mistress of Nothing: A Novel by Kate Pullinger here.
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Divia
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Post by Divia » Tue February 8th, 2011, 10:47 pm

I finished it about a week ago. I thought it was decent but I don't think I was awe struck as I hoped.

At times I found it difficult to figure out what the man servant was doing(forgot his name). He wasn't very loyal to the love of his life, know what I mean? I mean he seemed shackled to her, but I had the feeling his family was pretty well off, so why did he need the job so much?
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Post by Vanessa » Sun February 13th, 2011, 2:40 pm

I enjoyed it. I thought it was beautifully and evocatively written with some great descriptions of Egypt, the people and their way of life.

I thought it was a slow read and was interested to read in the author's notes that it took her many years to write the book, which seems amazing seeing as it's only 250 pages.

I would imagine that Omar was just a product of his environment. He was an Egyptian and that's how they led their lives, that's all they knew - I don't think they had/have much respect for women, they're just there to procreate. It was all about family and position. He didn't want to lose his important position with Lady Gordon and so Sally went by the wayside. Very sad really but at least Sally gained some independence and got to see her son, which was so very important to her as it would be to any mother. Sally's whole life seemed very sad - parents dying, her aunt not really wanting her and sending her off into service. I didn't particularly like Lady Duff Gordon by the end of the book - I thought she treated Sally very harshly and thought she must've fallen in love with Omar herself!

The theme for this month's book was a completely fictional book. Actually this was based on a true story and there were such people as Lady Duff Gordon, Sally Naldrett and Omar Abu Hellaweh. There are a couple of photos on the inside covers of my book of Lady DG and Omar. Unfortunately there are none of Sally in existence. I would love to know what she looked like, although I do have an image in my head.
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Post by Divia » Thu February 17th, 2011, 12:18 am

But my understanding was Omar didn't need the job that badly. I thought his parents had done well and that he came from a pretty good family. The clingy attitude was shocking, I guess.

I agree that Lady Gorton wasn't a nice character towrads the end of the book, but I think she felt betrayed by Sally. Afterall she had done so much for Sally and now she wanted to leave Lady Gorton in her hour of need. How dare she? A servant? I can see the Victorian attitude on that shning through.
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Post by Vanessa » Thu February 17th, 2011, 9:22 am

Perhaps Omar was expected to contribute? Or he just wanted his own independence. He had ambitions, didn't he?

What I found a little odd was that Lady DG let Sally marry Omar, so he then had two wives, especially as she had every intention of shipping her back to England. Even odder is that Sally accepted that he would have two wives. Not sure I'd want to share! Of course, in England the marriage wouldn't be valid. So maybe she thought it didn't really matter.
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Post by Divia » Thu February 17th, 2011, 11:01 am

Or perhaps despite it all she was still truly Victorian in her ideas and couldn't deal with the idea of an unmarried, pregnant woman under her roof.
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Vanessa
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Post by Vanessa » Thu February 17th, 2011, 4:30 pm

Yes, maybe so.
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Post by Divia » Wed February 23rd, 2011, 3:36 pm

Did only two people read this book?
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Post by Susan » Wed February 23rd, 2011, 11:29 pm

I also read the book, but I haven't chimed in.
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Post by Margaret » Thu February 24th, 2011, 7:39 am

I put this on hold at the library. My turn finally came, and I just finished reading this today. I found it fascinating. The portrayal of Egypt was so layered and rich - even though it never went any deeper than a woman in Sally's position was able to experience.

Although Omar behaved very selfishly, I do not think he was any more selfish than Lady Duff Gordon, or for that matter, than Lady Duff Gordon's husband, who refused to spend any time with her in Luxor despite the fact that the damper climate of coastal northern Egypt was obviously having a bad effect on her health. Unfortunately, I found these portrayals all too believable. Shortly after finishing the novel, I checked my email and found my lawyer had forwarded my husband's proposal for our divorce settlement, which despite his continual pleas for me to return to him because he supposedly loves me so much, would leave me in financial straits while he enjoys an inheritance from his mother of close to $1 million.

Before writing my first draft of a review of this novel, I did a web search for information about its factual underpinning. Pullinger doesn't say a great deal about this in her Author's Notes, though she does refer to Katherine Frank's biography of Lady Duff Gordon, Lucie Duff Gordon: A Passage in Egypt. Apparently, the general outline of Sally's situation is accurate: she did have a baby by Omar, she did marry him with Lady Gordon's permission, and Lady Gordon did dismiss Sally from her employ while insisting that Sally leave the baby with Omar's family and return to England. I haven't read the biography, though. Here's a review at the Globe and Mail by a reviewer who seems more conversant with the underlying facts than I am. She brings up some interesting points.
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