I enjoyed this short book, perhaps more than I think I should have when thinking back on it.
Lady Duff Gordon is the toast of Victorian London. But when her debilitating tuberculosis requires healthier climate, she and her lady’s maid, Sally, set sail for Egypt. It is Sally who describes, with a mixture of wonder and trepidation, the odd menage marshalled by the resourceful Omar, which travels down the Nile to a new life in Luxor. When Lady Duff Gordon undoes her stays and takes to native dress, throwing herself into weekly salons, language lessons, excursions to the tombs, Sally too adapts to a new world, affording her heady and heartfelt freedoms never known before. But freedom is a luxury that a maid can ill-afford, and when Sally grasps more than her status entitles her to, she is brutally reminded that she is mistress of nothing.
In 1862, the real Lucie, Lady Duff Gordon, a well known writer and hostess, traveled to Egypt with her maid. Her letters form the basis for this historical novel.
On the plus side, it’s a fascinating story, following an English lady’s maid on a journey into Egypt, where she lets her old life go and begins a new life, one not entirely of her own choosing. The book drew a vivid picture of life in Egypt at that time.
Unfortunately, the characters were all flat, and that includes Sally, the narrator. So much happens to her during the book, and she just goes along, calmly making decisions, but never showing her feelings. This is proper public behaviour for a woman of her station, but in a first person novel, I want to see behind the facade.
At least I understood her motivations. The two other main characters remained a mystery to me, particularly Lady Duff Gordon. That’s the downside of having one character narrate– if she doesn’t understand the actions of other characters, it’s hard for the reader to do so.
If you are looking for a glimpse of an unusual life, and a view of Egypt in a time of change, read this book. If you are looking for a nuanced character study, you may be disappointed.
I received this book for review from the publisher.