From the moment you start reading this novel comparisons with Kathryn Stockett’s The Help are inevitable. However the author was intelligent enough to realise that and took the precaution of alluding to that book in the early pages of this book. So you continue reading thankful that plagiarism is not on the menu. Then suddenly you are stopped in your reading tracks and jolted into an awareness that what you are reading has little to do with early 60s Mississippi but all to do with present day Singapore; Skype - smartphones - blogging? It is a truly shocking awakening. So much so that all aspirations you had of composing a review based upon characterisations, plot structure, the narrative and the other stuff that reviews are made of are thrown to the wind. You read on and start to pick yourself up by the scruff of the neck and rationally convince yourself that this is a fiction, it’s a jolly, good story, it didn’t really happen, its imagination, active, fertile imagination. Phew. And so you reach the end. It’s a happy, satisfactory ending for the most part. Then you read the Author’s Note and the sickening realisation hits you that this isn’t imagination at all, it’s all based on first hand knowledge and experience.
If, and it’s a big if, you can divorce yourself from that impact, the story is well put together with some compelling characters, Tala, Dolly and Jules all stand out. In fact Jule’s personal story, very moving, runs the risk of being overlooked by the dilemmas of domestic workers Dolly and Tala. Wisely the story has a positive redemption. But the implications of the book stay with you.
The Maid’s Room is a debut novel from an experienced writer who I think was astute enough to feel that this story was better told in novel form than left to the pages of newspapers, periodicals and the transient trends of social media. It is shocking to grasp that people are treated this way in our modern world. Arguments about cultural diversity and our tenuous grasp on it cannot be put forward here for the employers of these domestic workers are of our culture. I think that’s what is so chilling. What could be accepted, though not condoned, in The Help was due to the historical nature of that work. This isn’t history, this is contemporary.
It is a story that needs to be told and I do hope as many people as possible read it. If you’re undecided as to what to read next please consider this book.