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Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Maid's Room by Fiona Mitchell - Book Review, Interview & Giveaway

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Review by Suze

Tala and her younger sister Dolly are working as maids in Singapore. They send most of their money to the Philippines, so their children can go to school. Dolly is looking after a family with two young boys and Tala is cleaning houses. Life as a maid is difficult. Most expats aren't treating their maids very well. They don't have a voice and always fear deportation. Vanda's blog isn't helping either. Vanda is posting preposterous rules for maids and she publicly shames them. Tala fights fire with fire by starting a blog herself. This means she's now even more at risk, but she can't let Vanda get away with all the awful things she's posting.

Dolly has a big problem. She's broken one of the main rules of the agency she's working for. This means there's a chance she'll have to leave the country if she doesn't find a solution quickly. Amber is strict and doesn't see what's happening in her own home. The only gentle expat is Jules, an English woman who's struggling with fertility problems. She likes Dolly and Tala and tries to get to know them, which isn't how the other expat ladies are behaving. She's still getting to know her new neighbors when something dramatic happens that will change their world forever. For all four women life slowly spirals out of control, will they be able to come out unscathed?

The Maid's Room is an impressive story about expat life in Singapore. Tala is a brave woman with a strong voice. She isn't afraid to stand up for others, but it isn't always easy to be heard when someone's taking everything you have away from you. She keeps fighting and I admired her for it. Dolly is sweet, caring and pretty. She's great with children and genuinely loves the ones she's looking after, while she's missing her own girl very much. My heart ached for the mother who was willing to give up everything to give her daughter a better life. Amber is having marital problems. She's messed up and this clouds her judgement. Jules is suffering, but her gentle nature and tendency to look after others will always make her the one who's taking charge in a crisis. It was clear from the start something disastrous is about to happen and I couldn't turn the pages quickly enough to find out what that would be.

The Maid's Room is beautifully written. I loved that Fiona Mitchell tells her story from several different points of view, which gives the reader a complete picture of what she's writing about. She describes the lives of the expats and their maids in detail and honestly writes about injustice, mistakes, fears, exploitation and maliciousness. The story is laced with feelings of loneliness, homesickness and longing, which are so thoroughly described that I could easily understand and feel them. There's also hope, love and kindness, which gives the story a good balance. Fiona Mitchell has written a fantastic story about a thought-provoking subject. I think The Maid's Room is an absolute must-read and really loved this fabulous book.

Advice

If you love literary fiction with a strong message The Maid's Room would be an excellent choice.

About Fiona Mitchell


Fiona Mitchell is an award-winning writer and has worked as a journalist for many years. She spent almost three years living in Singapore and now lives in London with her husband and daughter. The Maid's Room is her first novel.

Links

Website // Facebook // Twitter // Instagram

Interview

1) Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?

I’m disorganised, like a good laugh and drink too much tea. If it’s cold, you’ll find me wearing three jumpers and standing beside a radiator; I need sunshine.

2) Where did the idea to write about the contrasting life of expats and maids in Singapore come from?

I lived in Singapore for almost three years where having a domestic helper or ‘maid’ is part of the culture. When I spoke to domestic helpers all of them had a story to tell me about how badly they’d been treated, not just in Singapore, but other countries including Hong Kong. Some employers had confiscated their passports, while others refused to give the women a day off. The women’s lives were a massive contrast to those of the expat families they worked for who often lived in luxurious accommodation that featured swimming pools and gyms.

3) You wrote The Maid’s Room when you moved to Singapore, what was it that made you start writing?

For many years, I’d wanted to write a book, and this urge to write took hold. It was sparked by the women who shared their stories with me, strong, stoical women who often wore a smile on their faces despite the hardship they were experiencing.

4) Can you describe the main characters in six words each?

Tala - funny, feisty, charismatic, kind, tactless, rule-breaker.

Dolly - quiet, beautiful, angry, loving, intelligent, strong

Jules - haphazard, tall, incredulous, laid-back, homesick, positive.

5) Two very different blogs are part of your story, where did the inspiration for this part of your story come from?

When I was living in Singapore, I found an anonymous blog by someone who called herself Tamarind. She outed domestic helpers who she considered to be ‘bad maids’, by publishing their names and work permit numbers. She also listed patronising rules for maids, similar to the ones Vanda writes. It made me angry, so I decided to give Tala the power to reply.

6) How did you prepare to write the difficult emotional scenes of your book?

I find writing emotional scenes the easiest scenes to write, those and arguments! I’m not sure what that says about me because I loathe arguing in real life. I’m an empathetic person and tap into that for emotional scenes. Whatever my characters are going through, I feel it while writing.

7) You’re a cheerleader for struggling writers, what is the main advice you give them?

One of the best things about getting published is championing other writers. I love it when writers contact me via Twitter to ask advice, and hopefully I’m of help. The best piece of advice I could give to someone trying to land a literary agent is to persevere - that’s what will get you published. Get back up after rejection however much it hurts, pay attention to advice from agents and editors, and just keep going.

8) How has living abroad for a while influenced your writing?

When I lived in Singapore I didn’t know anyone at first which turned me into an even more diligent observer of people. I’ve never lost that.

9) You love libraries, how did that love start and how does it feel that they now have your book on the shelves as well?

I adore libraries; checking out books is like bringing treasure home. My love for libraries came from my mum and dad who took me to our local library regularly. It was a magical place with streams and bridges in the garden, and little nooks and crannies inside. It was like stepping into another world and the adventures continued once I got home and buried my head in all my finds.

10) What are your plans for the future?

My second book entitled The Swap, which is about an IVF mix-up, is out in April 2019. And I’m halfway through writing my third book.

Giveaway

One very lucky reader of With Love for Books will receive a hardcover copy of The Maid’s Room by Fiona Mitchell.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The winner will be notified by email and has 3 days to respond. All of our giveaways are international.

23 comments:

  1. The Maid's Room sounds like a beautiful story that shines a light on the lives of domestic workers in Singapore with warmth and humour.

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  2. Expat life in Singapore must be very interesting--these women would definitely have stories to tell!

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  3. This book sounds fascinating and gives a perspective on working women in other countries.

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  4. to me this is a very interesting topic. so many leaving their own families to take care of other families.
    jan

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  5. Great interview and I love that cover!

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  6. Sounds great! Thanks for sharing x

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  7. This looks like such a fascinating book! I've added it to my 'want to read' pile!

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  8. A great review. A world I know little about.

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  9. This looks fab, thanks for the review to whet my appetite!

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  10. The Maid's Room sounds like a must read!

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  11. I've read some review on GR and I have to say that I'd love to read it, I hope I'll get a chance to.

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  12. This book sounds amazing

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  13. Can't wait to read this one! Sounds great!

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  14. This looks a great read 🤞🏼

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  15. Thank you for the chance to win!!

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  16. I love the sound of this book and I'm fascinated by The Swap.

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  17. Michelle FergusonMay 25, 2018 at 7:15 PM

    This looks like a brilliant book, fingers crossed

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  18. Thanks for the great prize and competition Good luck everyone!

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  19. My sister had a similar experience in Saudi Arabia. There the servants were mostly Filipino women who had absolutely no rights and were extremely badly treated. Yet these same women would give their last penny to help out a friend. True heroes.

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