This book was featured on my Books I’m Excited for January, 2018. I hadn’t heard of the author and I knew little of the topic, and yet I decided to read it. It was the best decision I could have made. I absolutely love this book and you can expect it to be on my top books from 2018 (though since we are only three months into the year, this statement might be premature). After my horrible review of The Chalk Man, I was honestly very apprehensive of reading this book right after it. Luckily, I didn’t need to worry! But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Release date: January 16, 2018
Plot Synopsis: In the 1860s, Irish girl Clara Kelly crosses the ocean to America in hopes of providing for her family. Under interesting circumstances, she finds herself as the lady’s maid to Andrew Carnegie’s mother. Andrew Carnegie, of course, is famous for being one of the richest men in America, establishing many libraries and, most famous, Carnegie Hall. The story follows Clara’s years working within the household and the special bond she forms with Andrew Carnegie himself.
This book reminds me very much of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South (except way shorter, of course, as North and South is about five hundred pages to this one which is under three hundred). This is the highest compliment which I can give any book, considering North and South is one of my favorite books of all times.
The historical context is brilliantly done. The author incorporates real business practices of the time, controversial thoughts, and yet does it in a way which does not detract from the plot itself. I confess I have little knowledge on this point in American history, so I probably missed half the references mentioned, and yet even I picked up on some of the lush detail—like Pullman’s train.
The characters are amazing as well. There are a surprisingly small amount of main characters, and what I liked is that the author made certain to develop the small cast well instead of relying on shallowly defining a lot of characters. Clara is a great, relatable person. She is intelligent, poor, and also claims a sense of morality that many people are lacking. However, she is also with her faults, and she works to rectify them. She is a good person, not just a good character, which is something I rarely see in modern literature.
Andrew Carnegie is also an exceptionally interesting character. The author could have emphasized his obsession with wealth, and yet she emphasized his humanness—both his strengths and weaknesses. He is intelligent, loves poetry, and is willing to work extremely hard to work his way from poverty to wealth. His is an example that more people should know about. He was not born into wealth, and when he gained it he did not merely horde it but gave much to charity and helped found libraries.
I won’t go through every character—though I also loved Mrs. Carnegie and Mr. Ford, the butler—but just suffice it to say that I loved every one of them, even if they were not perfect themselves.
In fear that I’m sounding too gushy about this book, I will give two points of which I was not entirely fond of.
First, throughout the book Clara and her sister Eliza—who is back in Ireland—exchange letters. While some of the letters give important info, mostly they seem like filler. I didn’t hate these chapters, but I did find myself skimming over them.
Also, the ending was a bit disappointing. However, I’ll save that part for the spoiler section.
The romance between Clara and Andrew Carnegie was brilliant. They are both practical, moral people, so it makes sense that their romance is also. They see in a sense that they will probably never be together, and yet they still enjoy their each other’s company. They have both brilliant minds. They are friends and, though more might have come out of it, it never does.
My biggest concern starting this book was that it was going to be just another boring romance. And yet it wasn’t. I recall a quote said by Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre, “And it is you, spirit—with will and energy, and virtue and purity—that I want: not along your brittle frame.” Similarly, Clara and Andrew’s is a romance between two souls, not two bodies. If that makes any sense! That in itself is a romance that few authors are able to portray.
Now, unto the ending. Of course I knew that they would not be able to marry in the end, because in real life Carnegie later marries Louise Whitfield in 1887 (twenty years after the fictional Clara leaves him). However, I felt that the ending was a little contrived and convenient. Carnegie’s mother finds out that Clara impersonated another woman to get the job with her, and she fires her, telling her to leave immediately without seeing Andrew. Clara, realizing that it would never work between them anyway, just leaves.
And then the story ends in 1900, with Clara telling her young cousin Maeve the story of Carnegie as they visit one of his libraries. It is such a bittersweet ending, and I did not mind this fact in the least. I just would have liked for it to be less sudden. But still, it did not deter my love of this book.
I rarely give 5 stars on Goodreads, but, in my opinion, this book deserves it. Have you guys read it? If you have, what are your thoughts (if you hate it, I totally wouldn’t mind, as we as readers all have different tastes)? If you haven’t, is it the type of book you might read? Let me know down in the comments, follow my blog for more madness, and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,