Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Miss Emily by Nuala O'Connor (2015)

My Q and A session with Nuala O'Connor (aka Nuala NI Chonchuir) 

Miss Emily is  beautifully rendered account of a seemingly unlikely friendship between an iconic American poet and a young Irish woman just moved to Massachusetts from Dublin working for the poet's family as a house maid.  The novel is structured through alternating chapters, first told by Emily Dickinson and then by her maid, Ada Concannon

Emily Dickinson (1830 to 1896) lives a very sheltered life with her parents. Socially upstrata  women were expected to remain at home until they married.  As we get to know her, O'Connor uses Dickinson's poems to help convey the often very  opaque psyche of Emily, we see a very sheltered woman, increasingly withdrawing from the mundane  world into her creations open up to Ada.

When we first encounter the Dickinson house hold they are in need of a new maid.  Ada has just arrived from Dublin and lives with her mother's sister and her husband.  Ada, eighteen, ends up working as a live out maid for the Dickinson family.  The chapters centering on her initial arrival in America, coping with missing her family and Ireland are really moving and interesting. In the Dickinson household we meet Emily's mother and father, her brother, an attorney, and a few others.  The family looks down on recent Irish immigrants, her mother is very critical of Ada's work.  We also get to know Ada's family.  Tragically her aunt dies and his daughter says it is not proper for a young unmarried woman to live with a widower, especially as she was not really related to him but through his marriage to her mother's sister.  She is given two weeks to move out.

By now her and Miss Emily have become close.  Emily arranges for Ada to become a live in maid. Of course Ada attracts the eye of young man from Dublin and soon they are out walking together.  Slowly they develop a romance.  I don't want to spoil the very exciting events that result from this.  I will only say Miss Emily shows great courage and resolve in a crisis.  

Miss Emily is a really superb very well researched work of historical fiction.  It takes a certain nerve to make one of the great poets of the world a lead character in a novel and O'Connor succeeds masterfully in this.   The character of Ada is presented very well, we feel her excitement and fear on entering into a new country, cut off from her roots. It was fascinating to see Emily through her eyes.  Ireland is never far from the thought of Ada. 

I really liked best  the narrative method of the novel, the changing from the psyche of Emily to Ada, to seeing how each reacted to the other.  Ada comes to sense the sadness and loneliness in Emily and Emily overcomes the class predjudices of her upbringing to see Ada as fully human.  Through Ada she finds a strength she might have seen to lack but we also see this result in her increasingly inward drift.

I completely endorse Miss Emily.  I think a familiarity with the poetry of Dickinson will increase yipur appreciation of this book.

Born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1970, Nuala O'Connor is a fiction writer and poet. Writing as Nuala Ní Chonchúir she has published two novels, four collections of short fiction, a chapbook of flash fiction and three full poetry collections - one in an anthology.
Nuala's third novel, Miss Emily was short-listed for he Eason Book Club Novel of the Year 2015 and is on the Long-list for the M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction 2016.

Nuala holds a BA in Irish from Trinity College Dublin and a Masters in Translation Studies (Irish/English) from Dublin City University. She has worked as an arts administrator in theatre and in a writers' centre; as a translator, as a bookseller and also in a university library.

Nuala teaches occasional creative writing courses. For the last five years she has been fiction mentor to third year students on the BA in Writing at NUI Galway. She lives in County Galway with her husband and three children.  From the 
Author's Website

Mel u


R.T. said...

Thank you for your posting. As I am a "fan" of Emily Dickinson, I am certainly interested in reading the novel you've so generously reviewed. Again, thanks!

Mel u said...

R. t. I hope you get the opportunity to read this one day