The Maid’s Room by Fiona Mitchell – Review
By Helen Johnston
Abuse of migrant domestic workers has made headlines in this country as well as abroad, with many such workers suffering appalling conditions. These victims of modern day slavery often have no legal rights and are too scared to report ill-treatment.
Award-winning journalist Fiona Mitchell shines a spotlight on the situation in Singapore in her thought-provoking debut novel. There are some 230,000 female domestic workers in Singapore and Mitchell was able to befriend a few of them when she lived there, listening to and writing down their stories.
They told of being forced to sleep in a cupboard or windowless bomb shelter, or even under a table; of being spied on by secret cameras installed by their employer; of not being allowed to use the swimming pool at the apartment blocks where they lived.
“Pulls no punches”
They were second class citizens, with many employers taking away their passports, paying poor wages and not allowing them a day off. The fact that such conditions were still preferable to returning to their home countries says much about the poverty they were trying to escape by working abroad.
The Maid’s Room pulls no punches in bringing home the message that migrant workers are treated shockingly, but also recognises that the women employing these maids are often living unhappy lives too, albeit in the luxury their money provides.
When feisty Tala reads a blog written by the mysterious Vanda, accusing maids of bad practices, she is unable to hide her indignation and starts her own blog in defence. Dolly meanwhile has become involved with a married man and finds herself pregnant, for which she could be deported.
Dolly’s dilemma in deciding what to do about her unwanted pregnancy juxtaposes with ex-pat Jules’ desperate attempt to have a baby as she goes through a third attempt at IVF. Meanwhile Dolly’s employer Amber faces tragedy as she struggles to cope in an unhappy marriage.
It’s not all unremitting gloom, there is humour in the book and uplifting moments which restore some faith in human nature. Essentially though this is a book with a strong message about the exploitation of migrant workers, which will leave you questioning the way the rich treat the poor.
‘The Maid’s Room’ by Fiona Mitchell is published by Hodder & Stoughton