“The ‘book’ about Fairfield was like the narrative of his life Mr. Carnegie wascrafting. I sat back and watched him wield his ‘words’ like a painter wields his brush, each a masterly stroke in the creation of a seamless whole. Except I was not witnessing the creation of an average painting, I realized. I was watching a masterpiece in progress.”
Clara Kelley is sent to America to secure work and help her family back home in Ireland, who are slowly losing their tenancy due to political disagreements. Told in first person, the story centers around the rise of the Carnegies at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and how one of the most wealthy men in the world also became the most philanthropic. Through Clara Kelley’s eyes we see both worlds: the rich and the luxe, contrasted by the extreme poverty that faced working class immigrants.
Just like the silk and damask that surrounds the characters the writing was rich, so that you became fully immersed in Carnegie’s Maid. Benedict’s descriptions brought the streets of 1800s Pittsburgh and New York to life, allowing entrance into both the luxurious estates and filthy tenements that made up the cities. Benedict painted a well-rounded portrait of the Carnegie family: both their faults and strengths. Through Clara we got to see the nuances of the family’s life in a way only someone truly intimate with a person can. The book makes its debut today. a fantastic publication day if you ask me. Happy New Year!
An aspect I particularly appreciated about the book was the way Benedict outlined the steps a person of the time would have to take to move up a class (a Herculean feat in that time). Often historical fiction novels just paint a brief moment in time with the classes separated like water and oil. Benedict got to the heart of the matter in this story, demonstrating through Carnegie’s own rise from a poor immigrant family to an industrial magnate the possibilities for immigrants, if they have grit and are given a chance.
“The world of books is still the world.”
While this story was fantastic, there were some parts where the plot seemed stagnant and not much was happening. Some of the passages were long and unnecessarily embellished, though I could only imagine that it reflected the boredom and long hours of Clara’s own life as a servant.
4 out of 5 stars for this rich historical fiction.
For readers who enjoy the Downton Abbey theme of class, I would also recommend The Wardrobe Mistress by Meghan Masterson. Marie Benedict is also the author of The Other Einstein, a novel that has been on my TBR list forever.
*Thank you to Netgalley and the author for providing me with a free copy in exchange for a honest review. All opinions stated here are my own.