cover image Miss Emily

Miss Emily

Nuala O'Connor. Penguin, $16 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-14-312675-1

O'Connor brings one of America's most beloved poets to life in this novel, which enters into the mind of Emily Dickinson as she retreats into a reclusive life amongst her parents and sister at their estate, the Homestead in Amherst, Mass., in the 1860s. O'Connor has conjured a fictional confidant for Emily in Ada Concannon, a headstrong 18-year-old Irish maid, who is hired by the Dickinson family on the day she arrives in town. The story unfolds as chapters alternate between first-person accounts by Emily and Ada. Emily grapples with her introversion and her chosen escape of writing: "The rustling passions of life are contained more truly for me in the words of poetry than in the everyday world." Ada greets stablehand Daniel Byrne, "trying to be a little formal, but something about him makes my mouth twitch and beam"%E2%80%94and just like that, a courtship begins. O'Connor is a gifted writer; not only does she bring a believable sense of poetry (clay is "deathly cool around my fingers") and self-assurance to Emily, she is also capable of conveying complex feeling succinctly, a talent shared by her historical heroine. The fascinating story also touches on issues of class and race. One wishes O'Connor would have done more to bring out Emily's interior life, but the reader is nonetheless pulled into the story. This novel has the possibility of being a book club juggernaut. Agent: Gr%C3%A1inne Fox, Fletcher and Company. (July)