Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Housemaid's Daughter by Barbara Mutch

5 Star

Cathleen Harrington leaves her home in Ireland in 1919 to travel to South Africa and marry the fiance she has not seen for five years. Isolated and estranged in a harsh landscape, she finds solace in her diary and the friendship of her housemaid's daughter, Ada. Cathleen recognises in her someone she can love and respond to in a way that she cannot with her own husband and daughter. Under Cathleen's tutelage, Ada grows into an accomplished pianist, and a reader who cannot resist turning the pages of the diary, discovering the secrets Cathleen sought to hide.

When Ada is compromised and finds she is expecting a mixed-race child, she flees her home, determined to spare Cathleen the knowledge of her betrayal, and the disgrace that would descend upon the family. Scorned within her own community, Ada is forced to carve a life for herself, her child, and her music. But Cathleen still believes in Ada, and risks the constraints of apartheid to search for her and persuade her to return with her daughter. Beyond the cruelty, there is love, hope - and redemption.

Kathryn- 5 Star

I’ve been thinking about writing the review for this novel for a few days and I thought I’d better listen to Chopin’s The Raindrop Prelude as it is mentioned in the story several times.  As I was reading the novel I didn’t really link the music to the story but having listened to it several times now I have woven a bit more of Ada and madam’s feelings from the music into my feelings about the book.  It is a piece that forces one to focus and inspires inner interpretation. Perhaps that’s why both Ada and Madam both enjoyed it so much- their lives invariably required them to contemplate their positions in life and how they could resolve those positions with their own inner peace.

The Housemaid's Daughter is very well written - vivid in its description of nature and places without being intrusive to the flow of the story line. Mutch managed to bring to the foreground not only the segregation of blacks and whites but the beginning of the division also of those that were born of mixed race and their the lack of belonging with either group.  As a mother Ada had to endure not only the atrocities many black women faced during this time period but also had to let her mixed race daughter go on in life without her.  Her relationship with the woman she worked for (whom she refers to as Madam) is I’m sure not unique but still very special and certainly not the norm. It’s most interesting to me that Ada’s loyalty to this woman-who seemed much more a maternal figure than her actual mother was described in the novel - should go beyond following and caring for her own daughter.  I can’t possibly understand how she felt but I was so torn reading it- wanting Ada to be content and happy but wishing she would take a more active role in her daughters’ well-being.

The Housemaid’s Daughter is a wonderfully written novel, although difficult to read in places, it forced me to think about many kinds of different relationships.

Thank you to Headline for our review copy! All opinions are our own. 

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