Rating: ★ ★ ★
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: January 16, 2018
Length: ~8 hours (283 pages)
Description from Goodreads:
In the industrial 1860s at the dawn of the Carnegie empire, Irish immigrant Clara Kelly finds herself in desperate circumstances. Looking for a way out, she seeks employment as a lady’s maid in the home of the prominent businessman Andrew Carnegie. Soon, the bond between Clara and her employer deepens into love. But when Clara goes missing, Carnegie’s search for her unearths secrets and revelations that lay the foundation for his lasting legacy. With captivating insight and stunning heart, Carnegie’s Maid tells the story of one lost woman who may have spurred Andrew Carnegie’s transformation from ruthless industrialist into the world’s first true philanthropist.
Clara Kelly is a fictional character imagined by the author as the instigator for Andrew Carnegie’s interest in philanthropy. I did love her as a character. Having just read Marie Benedict’s other novel, The Other Einstein, it’s clear that she writes stories revolving around strong and powerful women, which I love. Clara was very much a go-getter and willing to do what it took to provide for herself and her family.
Andrew Carnegie, on the other hand, I was not a fan of. I would have loved to have learned more about who he was, but for so much of the book I felt as though he was treated more as a romantic figure for Clara than an actual person. We do learn a lot about his rise into the steel industry, but I kind of wish the book focused more on that rather than on the romance between him and Clara.
I came around to it eventually, but I just did not buy into his actions for much of the novel. It felt like the author was trying to portray him as a much more desirable person rather than sticking to facts. Sure, I don’t know Andrew Carnegie super well, but I imagine in real life he wasn’t spitting out romantic one liners or doing over the top gestures uncommon for a man at the time.
Also, I looked this up after I read the book, but Andrew Carnegie funded the creation of over 3,000 libraries throughout his life, so mad respect for the dude. He also did lots of other good stuff for society, like investing heavily in education. So I’m not dragging him as a person, I just think the character wasn’t super well written.
Another issue I had was that the characters all seemed to talk so perfectly. Every phrase seemed so carefully crafted, which took me out of the story occasionally. It just seemed pretty unrealistic that they would always have the perfect response to every single thing that was said.
I also felt like there wasn’t a lot of character development for these two for the bulk of the novel. There’s a point where Clara reflects on how much she’s changed in the last year, and it didn’t really feel like that was true. The characters talked about how much they’ve changed over the course of the book, but I didn’t really feel that change as I was reading. I would have loved to have seen these characters grow more visibly, rather than just being told that they’ve changed. I guess they changed a little bit, but they both started off seeming pretty great already.
I loved the setting of this book. I’ve always been fascinated by the industrial revolution (even though the environmental devastation it continues to cause is terrible), which is part of the reason I picked up this book.
Benedict does a great job of illustrating what life was life in Pittsburg in the late 1800s, both for the upper and lower class.
I also really enjoyed all of the talk about railroads because I’ve always loved learning about the early days of them.
Honestly, the plot didn’t really do much for me. I mean, stuff happens throughout the book, but all of the plot points seemed pretty minor, rather than it having an overarching plot to hold my attention.
I didn’t really hate anything about the plot, but I wasn’t head over heels in love with it either. It was just kind of an average story.
I think my other big problem with this book was the pacing. It felt like the whole book there wasn’t a lot at stake. Sure, Clara was at risk of revealing her identity or being caught, but it never really felt like that was going to happen, even though we are told in the first chapter that she eventually goes missing.
I felt like it was a bit repetitive at points. There were several scenes between Clara and Andrew that were practically identical, as well as Clara always harping on about how she couldn’t get caught. Even though the book is pretty short to begin with, I felt like it could have benefited from some heavier editing to remove some of those more redundant scenes.
I also felt like the book ended way too fast. Even though I’ve complained a lot, I was pretty invested in these characters and it felt like I had to say goodbye to them faster than I wanted.
I listened to the audiobook for this one. I really loved the narrator. She had an adorable Irish accent, which really helped with immersing me in Clara’s story.
I think this book was fairly average. When I was reading it, I didn’t really hate it, but I didn’t really like it. It wasn’t until I sat down to write this review that I started picking it apart and discovering all of these problems.
It’s not a perfect book, but is it a bad book? Well, that depends on what you mean by bad. I’m going to say no. If you’re looking for a very light, short historical fiction set in the industrial era, I think you’d enjoy it. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s not unenjoyable either.