The Maid's Room by Fiona Mitchell

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The Maid's Room by Fiona Mitchell

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Set in the blistering heat of Singapore, The Maid's Room highlights the plight of foreign workers in the city's domestic service industry. Brilliant writing and characters you'll really care about. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: November 2017
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1473659568

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In some apartments in Singapore you'll find a bomb shelter - airless and without a window. It will probably house the washing machine and the other domestic paraphernalia that's got nowhere else to go. There'll be a mattress on the floor of this stifling room, with the heat increased by the tumble dryer. This is the maid's room. It's possibly better than sleeping under the dining room table, but not by much. Back in 2009 there were 201,000 female domestic workers in Singapore, many not earning any money for a year until they've repaid 'training' and other fees to the agency, many living in 'the maid's room'.

That's the background - the factual background - to Fiona Mitchell's story The Maid's Room. Tala and Dolly are sisters and both are working as domestic servants in Singapore simply so that they can send money home to the Philippines. Their pay isn't good, but it's a lot better than they could earn at home and it supports their mother, Tala's two sons and Dolly's daughter. They go for years at a time without seeing the children: Dolly's young daughter can't come to terms with the fact that Dolly's her mother. She thinks she's her auntie. But how else are the families to survive if Tala and Dolly don't earn the money?

And that's where their employers have the whip hand: it requires very little for a foreign worker to be deported and the girls even have to take pregnancy tests every six months. If it's positive the girl is on the plane home. Sexual abuse is not uncommon, security guards won't let them use the swimming pools in the condominiums and some employers lock the maid's passport away and enforce curfews on their day off. Not all employers are like this: Jules is fresh out from the UK, where she'd been a midwife - and these attitudes are alien to her. She's struggling to get on with the other women (and some of the men) where she lives. The maids look after their children and they have lives of leisure: Jules works part-time as a doctor's receptionist. They can't understand why she doesn't have children: Jules doesn't want to tell them that her third round of IVF has just failed.

There's an elephant in the room, isn't there? You're thinking about The Help. I was thinking about The Help too. I was working out the equivalent characters, but Mitchell tackles this head on: the women are discussing the book in their book club. It's not at all like it is in Singapore: I mean they don't have lynchings, do they? Forget The Help: this is a great story in its own right and all the more pertinent because this is now and hundreds of thousands of people are trapped in this situation.

That makes the book sound rather worthy and I don't want it to put you off reading the book. It's informative, but there's a darned good story there too. I was completely tied up in the mystery of which of the employers was writing the blog detailing all the ways you should keep your servant in check and my heart was in my mouth for Tala and Dolly on more than one occasion. It's a book to read and then read again so that you can appreciate all the nuances. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If this book appeals and you've read The Help, then you might also enjoy Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan and The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.

Buy The Maid's Room by Fiona Mitchell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Maid's Room by Fiona Mitchell at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Maid's Room by Fiona Mitchell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Maid's Room by Fiona Mitchell at Amazon.com.


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