I was provided with a copy of Carnegie’s Maid by NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review. This book will be released on January 16, 2018.
When I first saw Carnegie’s Maid as an upcoming release on NetGalley, I immediately took note of the author’s name–Marie Benedict. Earlier this year, I read and thoroughly enjoyed Benedict’s previous novel, The Other Einstein, and although I was utterly clueless about the history of the Carnegie family, I knew that Benedict’s writing and diligent research into her subject matter would make this a book worth reading.
Although Carnegie’s Maid invents a completely fictional character in that of Clara Kelley and The Other Einstein utilized only real people as characters, I still found that I was able to garner a wealth of information about Andrew Carnegie and the business dealings that led to his success as one of the richest men in history.
The premise of the book itself is a bit far-fetched, for sure. Clara Kelley journeys to America in order to secure a job that will help her family back in Ireland. Upon her arrival, she is mistaken for another woman with the same exact name who journeyed to America on the same exact ship but died during its passage. Clara is taken to Mrs. Seeley, a woman who places young women in the service of Philadelphia’s wealthy, under the assumption that she is the Clara Kelley expected, and she is placed in the service of the Carnegie family as Mrs. Carnegie’s lady’s maid. Clara’s inexperience in that particular line of work would have meant failure in most other young women, but due to Clara’s fortitude and intelligence, she adapts quickly and succeeds in her mission to become indispensable to Mrs. Carnegie. She also develops an intellectual relationship with the eldest Carnegie son, Andrew, that soon develops into an emotional connection that Clara refuses to acknowledge for fear of jeopardizing the critical financial assistance she is able to provide her family back in Ireland.
As with Marie Benedict’s The Other Einstein, I found Carnegie’s Maid to be a perfect read for those who enjoy learning more about important figures in history. The research Benedict did into the lives of the Carnegie family and the details of the time period was obviously extensive, and the influence that Clara had on their lives, although completely fictional, fit into the story in believable ways. Carnegie’s Maid is much heavier on historical details and factual insights into Andrew Carnegie’s life and businesses than it is on dramatic action, and I found myself easily able to imagine the landscape, both physical and societal, of the Philadelphia of the mid-1800s.
In addition, I found Clara’s character to be incredibly interesting. Her work ethic and strength in the face of adversity was more than admirable–it was inspiring. Clara’s desire to make more of her life than her birth into a family of Irish tenant farmers might have dictated during her time and her dedication to helping her family by sacrificing her own desires was clear throughout the book. Readers will find themselves rooting for her success. As history dictates, her ending is not necessarily the fairy tale one that readers will hope for, but that isn’t to say that this book is not full of hope.
My only complaint about Clara’s character would be minor–her internal conversations about her need to maintain her position for her family’s sake began to get somewhat tedious with their frequency. Although I understood her worries and the idea that they would be at the forefront of her mind, I did feel somewhat that I was reminded of them a bit too often. In addition, Clara’s story is one that is worth reading, but readers should also be aware that Carnegie’s Maid is very heavy on descriptions of Andrew Carnegie’s business dealings. As someone who was completely ignorant of those dealings prior to reading this book, I found myself a bit confused at times; however, I also found myself learning a great deal. Readers who are looking for a heavily romantic story will be disappointed; Clara and Andrew’s relationship does not veer into romantic territory much, and once it does, the details and length are sparse. Instead, Carnegie’s Maid is very much more the story of the value found in hard work and developing one’s intellect through access to information, which is a cause that Andrew Carnegie championed during his life. Benedict’s novel seeks to answer the question of what (or who) caused Carnegie’s attitude toward business to shift from one of cutthroat advancement to selfless giving, and I found Clara Kelley to be a beautifully crafted answer.