Title: The Maid’s Room
Author: Fiona Mitchell
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Book format: Advaned Reader Copy (ARC of Hardback version)
Description: ‘This is where she sleeps. A cupboard. A bedroom. A windowless box.’
Sisters Dolly and Tala have never felt further from home. In the blistering heat of Singapore, they spend their days enabling ex-pats to have lives they could never afford for themselves.
Even though she has little freedom, Dolly can just about live with her job if it means she’s able to support her beloved young daughter back in the Philippines. One day – if she’s lucky – Dolly may even be able to go back and see her.
Tala, however, just can’t keep her mouth shut about the restrictive, archaic rules maids are forced to abide by on pain of deportation. She risks everything to help her fellow maids, who have struggled to have their voices heard for far too long.
In a world where domestic workers are treated so poorly, The Maid’s Room explores how women can come together to change each other’s lives, and be the architects of their own futures.
Review: Oh wow, this book! Set in modern day Singapore it follows the stories of three women, two of them maids from the Philippines, and shows the reality of daily life for domestic workers in a country where their human rights are often ignored. I was really blown away with this novel that’s both heart breaking at times and so through provoking.
The book begins with a short prologue and then starts with the story of Jules, a British expat who’s moved to Singapore with her husband David. The story immediately shows you the lives from the point of those who employ the maids as Jules visits a party of one her neighbours. The following chapters all alternate between Jules, Dolly who is a maid to the woman who hosted the party and Tala, her older sister who cleans for others. Each of the chapters is cleverly marked at the start with a symbol which shows you whose story we’re now going to follow, for example a small plane denotes it’s Jules’s story.
As the chapters alternate you get a real sense of what life is like for these maids and how they are treated. When the chapters are from Dolly or Tala’s points of view the text refers to their employers as Ma’am and you feel the tension and often dislike or dismissal of them by the employers. In contrast Jules is treated respectfully by her neighbours who become friends however, unlike the others she sees the idea of the maids and the way they act as something alien. Jules’s perspective is very much how most of us would see the life of these Filipina maids and it was good to have this alternate perspective among all the women who treated their maids unfairly.
A lot happens in this novel and I never knew what was coming next. In fact it became more and more gripping the further I read on. I was soon hooked and I just couldn’t put this book down! Jules’s story continues and is a heart breaking one as her and her husband try desperately to conceive during their third round of IVF. Although I enjoyed reading Jules’s story, it’s really Dolly and Tala’s tales that interested me most. There were some funny moments as well as some truly sad and heart breaking ones. Dolly’s treatment in particular really got to me. There were moments you loved reading about her closeness with the children and yet the way she is treated by not only her immediate employer but also by others made me feel both emotional as well as disgusted. I don’t want to reveal any of the plot but even her treatment, right to the end of the novel is shocking. Tala’s story was an interesting one and I enjoyed the way she is so different from her sister. I especially loved the funny moments where, on more than one occasion, her feet or cooking skills were mentioned!
I really enjoyed this novel, the ending is a really satisfying one and made me want to cry happy tears but the reality of the way the domestic workers are treated in Singapore is heart breaking. In this day and age the rights of these poor women, living in bomb shelters (which act as their room) where there are no windows and often no hot water to wash themselves is just appalling. What makes this book all the more shocking and I believe necessary for all to read, is because this is actually happening in today’s Singapore!
The book contains some swearing, use of the f and s words as well as some sex though this isn’t throughout the novel, because of this I wouldn’t recommend this to young teens but mature teens and older. At the back of the novel there are author’s notes and I’d recommend everyone read them after finishing the book as you’ll be surprised with how much the story is based in reality, much of it being the author’s own experience.
This is such a powerful and heart wrenching novel, it takes you on such an emotional journey, and I can’t recommend it enough. I’ve always loved books with cultural issues but this one has really touched me and I think everyone should read it.
Review first published January 2018 – now republished here.
Have you read this book? What do you think about the subject matter. do you enjoy books which tackle issues like this? Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂