xoxoxoe, #43 The Mistress of Nothing, by Kate Pullinger

Here is an excerpt from my reviews of my #43 book, The Mistress of Nothing, on my blog, xoxoxo e:

Pullinger, a Canadian author who lives in London, writes well. The Mistress of Nothing won the 2009 Governor General’s Literary Award (Canada). 1860s Egypt is described quite lovingly by her protagonist. It is hard not to get caught up in Sally’s excitement as they begin their journey, even when plot turns are obvious from the first few lines in the introduction — Sally, a spinster of 30, will fall in love and have a falling out with her employer. The Mistress of Nothing is a love story, but less between Sally and her beloved, Lady Duff Gordon’s dragoman Omar Abu Halaweh, than between Sally and Egypt.

Omar Abu Halaweh, from Wonders and Marvels

To complicate matters, Omar already has a wife, Mabrouka, and a little girl. He explains to Sally that he is allowed to have more than one wife and she accepts this quickly, calmly, meekly. She seems to have easily abandoned her English upbringing, viewpoint, and any cautions she may have had towards men. When Sally and Omar not only have an affair they conceal from their employer, but a baby, all hell breaks loose. …

… Omar’s wife Mabrouka is offstage for the first part of the novel, living with his parents in Cairo. Since the story is being told from Sally’s perspective, Mabrouka is not exactly a villain, but she is a presented as a negative character. But then we meet her. Not only is she sympathetic to Sally and her predicament, but she is a well-rounded enough character to be portrayed as jealous and competitive for her husband’s attention. Pullinger had a great chance to really run with a story of unlikely female solidarity. Sally could have healed herself with such a friendship, especially after her illusions of shared intimacy with Lady Duff Gordon have been so shattered. Instead of pursuing this plot thread, Pullinger lets Omar make the rules, but never with any good reason why he will not support Sally, except that he doesn’t want to lose such a great position with Lady Duff Gordon. Sally and everyone else in his life go along with him, even when he is essentially a weak character.

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