Other than her infamous poetry, which I studied in university, I was not fully familiar with the idiosyncrasies of Emily Dickinson’s life until I read the historical fiction novel, Miss Emily by Irish author, Nuala O’Connor. Within pages of the first chapter I found myself researching Emily Dickinson’s life to find out more about her solitude and preference for words over people.
Through her own story as well as that of her fictional eighteen-year old Irish maid, Ada Concannon, Emily Dickinson’s life is reimagined in a way that will have even the most well-versed reader questioning what they know about the real Dickinson.
In this soon-to-be released novel, Ada and Emily become close friends and even though Emily prefers the security of her bedroom and her own company; she trusts Ada and likes her enough to spend time with her baking in the kitchen.
The Emily Dickinson of Miss Emily is not only a creative daydreamer whose love for words overtakes everything else in her life, but she is also a sympathetic heroine who cares deeply for those closest to her. She appears weakened by the thought of having to leave familiar surroundings, yet at the same time does not hesitate to fight to defend her unconventional role as a writer during a time when most women her age were married and starting a family. In comparison, Ada wants to settle with a man she loves only to have her plans thwarted one tragic evening. The effects of this event reveal a compassionate side of Emily Dickinson that only those closest to her would ever have had the privilege of knowing.
Ada Concannon is outgoing and gregarious in comparison to Emily; but together the two characters fill the pages with a compelling story that I liken to that of Idgie Threadgoode and Ruth Jamison from Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. There are times I wish that I feel the Emily Dickinson of Miss Emily is portrayed a little too weak for who she was really, but the ending made me appreciate and comprehend both her weaknesses and her strengths.
You don’t have to be familiar with Emily Dickinson’s work or life to fall in love with this book and its characters, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself looking up some of Dickinson’s poetry after reading some of the brilliantly placed excerpts Nuala O’Connor includes throughout the book.
Miss Emily is a perfect summer read for those who enjoy historical fiction novels, stories about friendship and of course, if you are a fan of Emily Dickinson. It’s beautifully written without being too complicated and the ending is sure to leave you both shocked and cheering. I enjoyed reading every page of this book and was sad to say goodbye the characters when the book ended.
Read it for yourself and you’ll see what I mean. It comes out July 14, 2015 from Penguin Canada – watch out for it at your local bookstore and pick up a copy. You won’t be disappointed. Happy reading!
Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of “Miss Emily” for the purposes of review, however the opinions expressed are my own (meaning I really did like the book!).