Book Reviews

Book Review: “Miss Emily” by Nuala O’Connor

Nuala O'Connor Publication Date: July 14, 2015

I have received this copy from Penguin Canada in exchange for an honest book review. This in no way influences my opinion of the novel.

Summary from the back cover:

Ada Concannon’s first day in America is a success. She’s the new maid for the respected but eccentric Dickinson family of Amherst, Massachusetts. Despite differences in age and class, eighteen-year-old Ada, fresh off the boat from Ireland, strikes up a deep friendship with Miss Emily, the gifted elder daughter living a spinster’s life at home. Emily is a bastion of support as Ada struggles to find her place in this new world, while Ada’s toil gives Emily the freedom she needs to write.

But Emily’s passion for words begins to dominate her life. She decides to wear nothing but white and increasingly avoids the outside world. When Ada’s safety and reputation are threatened, however, Emily faces down her own demons in order to help her friend, with shocking consequences.


Miss Emily is such a joy to read – it’s clean, simple, and intriguing all at the same time. I love the structure of this novel too – each chapter is either written in Ada’s perspective, or Emily’s.

I felt like this is more about Ada’s journey rather than Emily’s journey. We see Ada grow as a character, and make difficult  decisions whereas with Emily, the only major change in her was just going out of her house once, which is really the only positive from her (there are other changes, but I won’t give them away – these are the ones her family doesn’t really get or like).

While reading the book, I found myself wanting to hurry and get through Emily’s section so I can see what Ada will do in her next chapter. I’m more interested in the fictional character rather than the real woman that this novel is supposed to revolve around (hence the title, Miss Emily).

With that being said, I loved that Nuala O’Connor stayed true to the character of Miss Dickinson; she definitely pulled it off, and gave us a really good sense of who Emily Dickinson was when she was alive. The language she used in Emily’s chapters was very poetic which reflects her class and upbringing (quite unlike Ada’s language, which made each character a lot more personalized). I loved the little touch of mystery though that comes with Emily herself. We never truly get inside her head and the reasons behind every action, but I think it’s perfect because this can lead to a lot of great discussions if you’re using this as a book club choice. Emily in this novel is outspoken, hard headed, and always fights for what’s right, no matter who she has to stand against. I think that because of her choice to not engage in the outside world makes her a stronger person. Her lack of normal communication with people  is what drives her to be so passionate when she sees something that needs to be fixed. Now counter this with Ada’s passivity, and you have a beautiful and unbreakable friendship.

The best place to read this book would probably be at the beach, OR (even better) at the cottage enjoying the early morning with a cup of coffee or tea. This book pairs well with that “perfect morning for reading” mood, so with the right setting and a few hours to kill, you’ll have your entire day set.

Final Report:

I give this book an almost perfect score – 9.5/10. I really love its simple style, and the characters were easy to fall in love with, along with the plot line. I just wish there was more of a transformation with Emily just like there was with Ada. Regardless of that, this novel left me wanting more from Nuala O’Connor, and I would love for there to be another book and for her to continue on with Ada’s life. I think this book is very likeable, and would suit anyone’s preferred genre to read. How can anyone not love this novel, with such a high profile author in it? This book is set to be released this July – so once it comes out, you should definitely give it a read, and put this one on your reading lists.

Have you already read this book? Are you waiting for it to come out? Comment below on what you loved about Miss Emily – was your favourite character Emily or Ada? 

3 thoughts on “Book Review: “Miss Emily” by Nuala O’Connor

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