Friday, 21 August 2015

My Cleaner - Maggie Gee

This is a book about many things,  but mostly it's about children - how we treat them, how we rear them; and about the clash of cultures, either those of other countries, or indeed, those who are different to you even though they are family.  Vanessa divorced her husband (although she never really let him go - handy for DIY) when her son Justin was small.  But then, of course, she had to work to pay the mortgage and put food on the table.  And she had to write (two fiction, and a series as co-author about Pilates and the like).  This meant that she had to employ a cleaner who was actually fulfilling the dual role of cleaner and Nanny.  She was Mary Tendo.  When Justin was 12, she went back to Uganda and got herself a good job as Linen supervisor in a hotel and got on with her life.
At 22, Justin is obviously suffering from severe depression, not washing, walking about naked, and spending most of his time in bed eating sweets.  Vanessa cannot do anything with him and frankly, she doesn't have time, so when Justin says one day, out of the blue "I want Mary"; it takes a while before she realises what he means.  She can't do anything with him, but his former nanny might be able to.  So she pays for Mary to come back to England to see if she can rouse Justin from his stupor.  She really doesn't understand depression, and as he has an MA he should really pull himself together and get a good job.

So Mary arrives, and the culture clash begins.

Maggie Gee went to Uganda after receiving a commission from the Cheltenham Literary Festival, and then a grant from the Society of Authors helped with further African travel.  At the beginning of the book there is a half page of thanks, well worth reading.  She has given Mary her own voice, and although I have never been to Uganda, and am unlikely to do so, I quickly understood that like every country, it has its own sense of humour, sense of irony, and way of behaving.  I loved Mary, ploughing on regardless because it was important to get Justin better, save the money she was paid by Vanessa for doing so, and get back to Uganda to a nice life  with her lover Charles. There is sadness in everyone's life, Mary has been divorced by her Muslim husband, she has lost her own son, probably.  Vanessa's background is a closed book, for when she left her own village, she left everyone in it behind too.
Mary can be naughty, Vanessa can be spiteful, Jason is a big baby.  But there are reasons for all of this, and as the story progresses, secrets are revealed and questions answered.  Mary's voice is wonderful.  Vanessa wants a good slap, and Jason?  Well..... there is a reason for Jason's depression.  All will be revealed as you read on.