Emily Dickinson loves words more than people. She notices the beauty in the minutia of nature and sees random darkness of the world around her. Quite content to remain within the confines of her house and gardens in Amhurst, she adores her friend Susan, is indifferent to her family and whiles away her hours writing verse, in her bedroom. However, when a new maid arrives from Ireland she is strangely drawn to her chatty and inquisitive nature. Ada is not backward in coming forward and balances out the stuffiness of Amhurst, delightfully. There is life injected into the house and Emily and Ada become unlikely friends. The smell of baking lingers in the downstairs kitchen and pantry, the sound of chat is heard where there was formerly silence and Ada's beau is a frequent visitor to the Dickinson kitchen. Ada's life is altered one fateful evening and things slowly begin to unravel. A fear of the unknown, a lack of family and a dreadful illness cause Ada to become a problem for the Dickinson family. Emily is determined to help, in whatever way she can, but can she save Ada? Is their friendship strong enough to go beyond the barrier of the staff/employer divide?
To say I was chomping at the bit to read this novel is a bit of an understatement. I have been a fan of Emily Dickinson's work since studying her for my school exams. Not only are her words profound, intense and memorable, but researching her life was an unexpected pleasure. The 'crazy' lady, locked in her bedroom with no company but for her poems. Dark, depressed and dreary. This is what many have come to believe about Emily's life and words. But this is an incomplete, and perhaps debatable or inaccurate, picture. Nuala O'Connor has identified with the woman behind the poetry. The human being who devoured literature, loved her friend and sister-in-law dearly, appreciated nature for its simple existence and who said :
"Hope is a thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all - "
Each chapter is given a unique title, which lends a feeling of a more intimate read. It also means the reader can return to favourite passages quite easily. The chapter lengths are short, yet each contains an equal measure of literary delight. There are no fillers here. For the first time, I am considering buying the audio book, to soak up the eloquent words from another perspective.
The author has taken a legendary poet and given her a voice through fiction. Using wonderful prose, elegant style and respectful narrative, she has brought Emily to life. Her famed 'darkness' is not relevant to this story, her love of flora and fauna, her trusting nature and her adoration of the written word are the important factors. Her unexpected closeness to the family maid is the core of this tale. Ada is what Emily needs, and Emily is what Ada needs. Two very different women, two vastly different walks of life, yet two characters who understand each other more than anyone.
Meticulous research has led to a novel full of detail, warmth, depth and beauty. It is historical fiction with elegance and integrity. Just as Miss Emily Dickinson deserves...
Miss Emily is published by Sandstone Press on 20th Aug 2015 and is available in paperback and ebook format.