- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Telegram Books (18 May 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1846590086
- ISBN-13: 978-1846590085
- Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.5 x 20.1 cm
- Average Customer Review: 70 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 31,868 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
My Cleaner Paperback – 18 May 2006
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Beautifully observed, intelligent and moving ... a carefully wrapped surprise that gets better and better with the unravelling. Scotsman
Darkly comic Guardian
An intelligent and satisfying read. --Sunday Times
Much of the joy of reading Maggie Gee derives from her ability to take control of a complex and multi-layered narrative and render it as accessible and satisfying as a television soap. Her prose is rich and gossipy; it mixes the highbrow with the vernacular, and is, at times, shockingly cynical. Observer
Must Read: we get the trademark Gee humour and also a thoughtful, moving read. New Nation
A smart satire on a subject central to most women s lives ... we either keep our houses clean, or pay someone else to do it. It s a queasy thought ... and [one] you will never brush casually aside again after reading My Cleaner. --Daily Telegraph
Gee satirises the liberal conscience of the chattering classes with uncomfortable perception in this hugely enjoyable novel ... her portrayal of Britain s new underclass of immigrant workers is presented with her trademark stinging clarity. Metro
My Cleaner is another successful attempt on Gee s part to inhabit the mind of someone who is quite unlike her: in this case, a black Ugandan ... Gee gives all her characters, white and black, male and female, the dignity of knowing that they live according to the choices they have made. New Statesman
It s amazing how many details, characters, stories within stories, Maggie Gee s unquenchable exuberance crams into this comparatively short book. --The Spectator
My cleaner. She does my dirty work. She knows more about me than anyone else in the world. But does she, in fact, like me? Does her presence fill me with shame? Ugandan Mary Tendo worked for many years in the white middle-class Henman household in London, cleaning for Vanessa and looking after her only child, Justin. More than ten years after Mary has left, Justin - now twenty-two, handsome and gifted - is too depressed to get out of bed. To his mother's surprise, he asks for Mary. When Mary responds to Vanessa's cry for help and returns from Uganda to look after Justin, the balance of power in the house shifts dramatically. Both women's lives change irrevocably as tensions build towards a startling climax on a snowbound motorway. Maggie Gee confronts racism and class conflict with humour and tenderness in this moving, funny, engrossing read.See all Product description
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Vanessa Henman is a writer, snobbish, selfish, insecure, self-deluding, a cold single mother, though her ex-husband Trevor looks in frequently to fix things in the house and to keep in touch with Justin, their son.
Mary Tendo is a Ugandan. Educated at Makerere College, she had been sent by her government to do an MA in London, but then the government grant stopped; Mary could not afford to continue with her MA and took a job with Vanessa, initially as a cleaner twice a week, but soon looking after Justin, who became very fond of her as she of him. He was three when she arrived and eleven when, having saved enough money, she returned to Kampala. There she has found a decent job as the Linen Store Keeper in one of the top hotels, and is saving money to be able to retire to her native village. She is confident and satisfied with her life (though she has one great grief whenever she thinks of her much loved son Jamil whom her Libyan ex-husband took with him to Tripoli).
Then she receives a letter from Vanessa: Justin, now 21, "is very ill. He never gets up". He was still so fond of Mary; could she possibly come back to look after him? The money would be good. So Mary returns. She secured twice the wages that she had been offered: an early sign both of her confidence and of the new relationship between her and her employer. Justin is indeed mentally very sick, and Vanessa can do nothing with him; but he responds to Mary, which further tilts the balance of power in the household towards her. There is growing tension between the two women, and the reader is on tenterhooks, especially in the last few pages, about how it will all work out. Mary is as robust as Vanessa is brittle. In the end we feel sorry for Vanessa, especially as we learn more about her background and she is not wholly dislikeable. Both characters are beautifully drawn, and I can't wait to meet them again in the sequel, "My Driver".
Mary is a delightful character, and a particular charm of the book is her attitude to Europeans: she is not in awe or in fear of them; rather she comments, almost in the manner of an anthropologist, on the artificial and stilted way in which they live and on their accumulation of possessions.
Mary wants to earn money so she can go back to her home village in Uganda with her head held high as a success; Vanessa couldn't wait to leave her village, where her family were very poor, and has never felt a desire to visit. Mary's presence is a catalyst for (eventually) changing attitudes and relations. Vanessa's writing career is in decline; Mary is inspired to become a writer. See what I mean by being just a little over-thought?!
Despite things being perhaps a little too artfully plotted out, it is surprisingly readable and indeed has quite a lot of humour - sometimes not of the comfortable kind. Worth reading.
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