The chapters in this lovely story alternate between the voice of Emily Dickinson and her fictional Irish maid, Ada Concannon. Their voices feel authentic for the most part, and their relationship brings out their best characteristics. Also, the historical details of Emily Dickinson's Amherst, her family, and her relationship with her sister=in-law Susan Dickinson are wonderful.
But I must say that the plot launched into a dramatic adventure halfway through that was wholly unexpected and shone the spotlight necessarily on Ada rather than Emily. I guess I wasn't expected rape and murder in a book with this description, especially since that seems to take more of a free hand with the fiction part of historical fiction than I'm usually comfortable with. It seemed unnecessary and almost annoyingly distracting. Was it a good story? Sure. Was it believable in the historical context? Uh, no. Yes, sexual assault happened at that time -- of course it did. But its aftermath and how the different characters handled it felt unlikely in several places.
It felt like O'Connor was looking to fabricate the ultimate answer to why Dickinson never left the house in her later years. And she had to believe it was something traumatic, so she introduced trauma into a life that, as far as we know, had nothing of the kind. It feels like it disrespects Emily's lifestyle -- that only a trauma survivor would be allowed to live this way. All the drama felt misplaced.
Okay, so I didn't like the plot. All that said, I honestly enjoyed the book. The writing style was engaging and Emily's preoccupation with words and observing the world while not quite being in it felt true. I like that in a historical novel.
I got a free copy of this from First to Read.