The Housemaid’s Daughter
The Housemaid’s Daughter by Barbara Mutch is not a book I would have normally picked up and read of my own accord but I enjoyed it.
Most of the reviews I’ve read since reading this are based on the character Cathleen (madam). But in actual fact the book revolves around Ada, The Housemaid’s Daughter.
Cathleen comes from Ireland to South Africa and marries her long time fiance. They hire a maid who gives birth to Ada beneath the Thorn tree out the back of the house. Growing up her mother teaches her the trade of housemaiding for a white family. The family have 2 children. 1 boy (Phillip) and 1 girl (Rosemary). The girl is mean and nasty (even later in life) and Phillip goes to war. Cathleen teaches Ada to read, write and speak english as well as nurture her passion for the piano. When Phllip comes home from the war he is injured and Ada is the only one that helps him heal. Once his injuries are healed he reveals that more is broken than just flesh.
Now the book doesnt exactly tell you if he commited suicide, but the way I read it was that he did. Ada is never the same again.
Rosemary runs off to “jo burg” and causes all sorts of mischief. Cathleen follows her to get her out of trouble, probably not her best decision as the Master of the house… Ada has some “special cuddles” and she winds up pregnant. She is so ashamed that she runs away to her aunties house…..where the story really takes off. Ada gives birth to a light skin child. She is shunned from the black community and doesnt belong in the white. Her aunt kicks her out once the baby is born and Ada gets a job as the local school’s music teacher. Cathleen, who has been searching for Ada, finally finds her and discovers why Ada ran away…
Alot of this book is very much like The Help by Kathryn Stockett, just set in South Africa. It was very easy to read and for a first novel it was pretty good. I particuarly like the diary entries that Cathleen includes, as you dont always get to hear what a character is really thinking (her husband was a jerk and a 1/2!). Its a shame that Phillip died so young and at the beginning of the story – I was really enjoying the interaction between he and Ada.
I thought at times the writting was a little dry but I stuck with it till the end and would recommend it for a holiday read.