Governor General Literary Awards

The Mistress of Nothing

Kate Pullinger

The Mistress of Nothing

Lady Duff Gordon is the toast of Victorian London society but when she contracts tuberculosis, she and her devoted lady's maid, Sally, set sail for Egypt and an entirely new life. Sally and Lady Duff Gordon thrive in their new and exotic surroundings, learning Arabic, adopting native dress and visiting the tombs of ancient pharaohs. Soon, Sally adapts to this new world and to the heady freedom she's never known before. But freedom and romance are luxuries a lady's maid can ill afford. When Sally yearns for more than her status entitles her to, she receives a brutal reminder that she is the mistress of nothing. (From Anchor Canada)

The Mistress of Nothing won the Governor General's Award for fiction in 2009.

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Excerpt:

I was not a complete person and it was this thought, or rather, this lack of thought, that compelled her, allowed her, to act as she did. She loved me, there's no question of that, and I knew it and had felt secure in it, but it transpired that she loved me like a favored household pet. I was part of the background, the scenery; when she entertained, I was a useful stage prop. She treated her staff well and I was the closest to her; I did everything for her in those last years. I was chosen to accompany her on her final, long journey. But I was not a real person to her, not a true soul with all the potential for grace and failure that implies. My error was to not recognize this, to not understand this from the very beginning. When I did wrong, I was dismissed, I was no longer of use to her. No, worse than that - I was excised, cut out, as though I'd become part of her dreadful disease, a rotting, malignant supernumerary limb that needed to be got rid of. So I was amputated. I was sent out into the world, a useless lump of flesh and bone cast off from the corporeal body.


From The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger ©2009. Published by Anchor Canada.