Friday, July 10, 2015

Miss Emily - A Fictional Account of The Life of Emily Dickinson (Book Review)

Having recently read and enjoyed Vanessa and Her Sister, a fictionalized account of the relationship between Virginia Woolf and her sister, Vanessa Bell, I was pleased to move straight on to another fictional tale of a famous writer. Miss Emily: A Novel, the North American debut of award-winning Irish writer Nuala O’Connor (Nuala NĂ­ ChonchĂșir), looks at a short period in the life of one of America's most beloved poets, Emily Dickinson.

The story alternates between Emily's voice and that of her family's Irish maid, 18-year-old Ada Concannon. Newly arrived from Ireland, young Ada is hired by the Dickinson family to serve in their mansion in Amherst, Massachusetts. Despite differences in age and social standing, Ada soon develops a close bond with Emily, the family's eldest daughter, by then considered a spinster in her circle.

Miss Emily is an imaginative look at what life may have been like for the reclusive poet, who becomes increasingly less comfortable in the outside world. More content alone at home with her affinity for words, Emily eventually chooses to forgo leaving her home completely.

But when the safety of the Dickinson homestead is disturbed by a violent event, Emily must face her fears to defend and support her friend. With a crisis threatening to change Ada's life forever, the unlikely friends join together to face a challenge unlike any other.

Despite the sometimes difficult subject matter, Miss Emily doesn't feel overly weighty. I didn't shed any tears, in other words. It is an engaging story with short, easily digestible chapters. Although the title would suggest the book centres on the famous poet, I found the character of Ada just as interesting, if not more so. And, as a lover of baking, I enjoyed the domestic details around Emily and Ada's shared fondness for cake baking and sweets.

This is a good, short book to add to your summer reading list, especially if you are a fan of historical fiction and/or Emily Dickinson.

Do you enjoy fiction that centres on real-life figures?


  1. Sounds interesting! As a historian, I'm often worried that historical fiction actually damages the actual history (the CSI effect in history, I suppose). But this sounds like the type of story that only used the historical figures as a vehicle for a fictionalized tale--and the focus on the maid seems fascinating!! Going on my reading list!!

    1. I can see what you're saying for sure. Yes, this story is probably more fiction than fact. Especially since the maid is entirely made up. If you read it as pure fiction, you'll be okay. :)