Today I’m reviewing the audio book of Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict, Historical Fiction, narrated by Alana Kerr Collins. I chose this book because the topic for my monthly readers group was birthplace fiction, and most of this book takes place in my home town of Pittsburgh, PA. The author, Marie Benedict, calls Pittsburgh home, too.
Here’s the premise of the book, from the Amazon description:
Clara Kelley is not who they think she is. She’s not the experienced Irish maid who was hired to work in one of Pittsburgh’s grandest households. She’s a poor farmer’s daughter with nowhere to go and nothing in her pockets. But the other woman with the same name has vanished, and pretending to be her just might get Clara some money to send back home.
If she can keep up the ruse, that is.
Now, Clara Kelly isn’t just any farmer’s daughter. She’s highly intelligent, clever and well-educated. Her father had political leanings and educated his daughters not just in the basics, but also in history and literature. Clara quickly adapts by aping the Anglo-Irish accents of the Martin girls, daughter of the local lord, her father’s nemesis. Clara was chosen to go to America because she’s so smart, she was seen as unmarriagable.
Because this is fiction, Clara finds herself working for Andrew Carnegie’s mother as a lady’s maid and making it up as she goes. She only gets away with it because Mrs. Carnegie came from a hard scrabble beginning as the wife of a weaver. She’s new to having a lady’s maid, not to mention the lavish life style the family can now afford, thanks to her brilliant son Andrew.
And because this is fiction, the attraction between Andrew and Clara becomes inevitable. The two mesh intellectually at first, then later emotionally, but Clara’s family is in dire straits back in Ireland and she knows her first duty is to them. Her relationship with Andrew threatens her job, and that she cannot lose.
Benedict posits Clara’s influence as the reason why Carnegie became such a philanthropist, starting early in life. In fact, no one knows why he became so determined to give away so much of his hard earned money, but he set an example that millionaires and billionaires after him have followed.
Andrew comes off as a fascinating character. A man both ruthless in business and generous in private. Apparently he had a dual nature in real life.
A less gifted author might not have pulled off this premise, but both Clara and Andrew and their relationship seemed believable. I quite enjoyed the book, including Collins’s narration. She does a great job with the various accents: Irish, Scottish and American. I also enjoyed the descriptions of Pittsburgh in the 1860’s.
I found the review printed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to be informative, esp. about the author’s inspiration for the story. As the review points out, Carnegie is a towering figure in Pittsburgh’s history. I remember going to the imposing Carnegie Library downtown when I was a child. He also endowed a university, now known as Carnegie-Mellon.
Recommended for fans of Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey.
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