My Cleaner, Paperback Book
4.5 out of 5 (1 rating)


My cleaner. She does my dirty work. She knows more about me than anyone else in the world.

But does she, in fact, like me? Does her presence fill me with shame? Ugandan Mary Tendo worked for many years in the white middle-class Henman household in London, cleaning for Vanessa and looking after her only child, Justin.

More than ten years after Mary has left, Justin - now twenty-two, handsome and gifted - is too depressed to get out of bed.

To his mother's surprise, he asks for Mary. When Mary responds to Vanessa's cry for help and returns from Uganda to look after Justin, the balance of power in the house shifts dramatically.

Both women's lives change irrevocably as tensions build towards a startling climax on a snowbound motorway.

Maggie Gee confronts racism and class conflict with humour and tenderness in this moving, funny, engrossing read.


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My Cleaner studies the relationship between two women with much more in common than either of them suspects. Vanessa is a sixtyish English woman, solidly middle class, a writer with two novels and several successful Pilates books to her credit who now teaches creative writing, the divorced mother of a son. Mary is a younger Ugandan woman, college educated, linen supervisor in a hotel in Kampala, also the divorced mother of a son, who once worked for several years as Vanessa's cleaner. When Vanessa's son Justin has a nervous breakdown, she appeals to Mary to return to England to help him. Mary realizes that she can save most of the money she makes in England and use it for a better life with her boyfriend and for the girls in her village.The two women do not like each other. Vanessa is jealous of Mary's relationship with Justin, but Mary mothered Justin when he was a baby and Vanessa was too busy. In fact, Vanessa is jealous of Mary's relationships with everybody and spends a good bit of her time shoring up her own shaky ego. Mary, on the other hand, lost her son to her husband when they divorced, and although she was devoted to him, she was not able to spend a lot of time with him when he was a baby because she was taking care of Justin. Now Jamil (or Jamey or Jamie - Does Mary not know how he spells his name?) has disappeared, and Mary is as fearful for him as Vanessa is for Justin. Mary sees Vanessa as out of touch with reality, a small woman swamped by her possessions, spoiled, and too self-indulgent to be of any use in the world.What ensues is a charming, funny, touching journey to self-understanding and accommodation through misunderstandings and deception. Maggie Gee's writing is pitch-perfect, understated, and insightful. As Mary and Vanessa haggle over money, she writes, "They are a breath apart, with the world between them." I thought before I wrote this that I liked the book very much. Now I believe I love it.

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