12 Oct Housemaid’s Daughter Wrap-up
The days–no, the months–seem to fly by and blogging about books only confirms the feeling. I can scarcely keep up with our current book before we’re onto the next. Here then, some thoughts on the lovely Laurie’s selection, The Housemaid’s Daughter, followed by a phenomenal recipe or two from the LOL meeting she hosted. And then? Well, Monday is a new day…and a new book! Check in!
You know when someone says they really “enjoyed” a book? Is that sort of like saying someone is really “nice”? What exactly does that benign–but boring–term mean? Yet…it’s kind of how I feel about The Housemaid’s Daughter. It’s a nice kind of read. Barbara Mutch is a very talented wordsmith. The writing is lovely and lyrical, particularly descriptions of Ada’s piano playing and the way the music selections throughout the book seemed to echo the sentiments of the characters. I enjoyed this author’s writing and appreciated the immensity of the story, which moves through war and the developing apartheid that followed. Even at times of trial and peak moments of sadness (and there are many!), the writing is constant. It’s a dependable story. No huge surprises here. But my personal view on Mutch’s style is that it’s kind of…long. And a little too smooth?
What do I mean by that? It’s all so personal, this critiquing of books. All of the LOL liked this novel, admired the writer’s skill, and were moved by the story of friendship between Ada and Madam Cathleen…….And don’t get me wrong. It’s never boring, it’s just never exciting either. Described as an epic journey, it’s an epic read. While not difficult, I nonetheless found it a little too calm at times. Given the drama of the day, I yearned for more spark in the story.
The characters are well developed and the division of blacks and whites is well described in Mutch’s book. I admire her skill at weaving this moving story, but for me, the passion of the place –and the people–was missing. As the reader is taken through events like the war and suicide, the shanty shacks of black townships versus the estate homes of the whites, the fierce fighting that erupted during apartheid, the undercurrent that keeps it all together is the story of Ada and Cathleen. Constant. Predictable. Despite the deep sadness and unending loss these women endure, their friendship lives on, surviving the most unforgivable odds. It’s quite beautiful. It’s certainly thought provoking. It just wasn’t a page turner. But then again…good literature doesn’t have to be.
3.5 Cheers! from me.
I leave you now with two reviews from Good Reads: One in full five-star praise of the novel; the other not so much. In the end, I believe it’s worth the read, but I’ve read better? There you have it.
Until next time,
Spoiled and self-absorbed Miss Rose treats Ada shabbily and refuses to answer any of her questions. “I don’t have time to explain. You haven’t any money so you probably don’t need to learn to count.”
On the other hand, young Master Phil has feelings for Ada and is not afraid to walk with her in town or hug her at the train station.
After Miriam, Ada’s mother, dies and Rose heads for the bright lights of Johannesburg, Ada and Cathleen gravitate toward each other. As this unlikely friendship blossoms, rumblings of apartheid begin to divide the small community. A set of unfortunate circumstances force Ada to leave the only home she has ever known.
A natural storyteller, Barbara Mutch has a wonderful eye for detail and a gift for creating a strong sense of place. I particularly enjoyed reading the following description of the Great Flood: “At first it was a brisk eddy, then a howl of demented water that went way beyond the Beethoven rush of my youth, or the tumbling Grieg of Mrs. Cath’s Irish stream. This flood had no musical equivalent, and it raged at a pitch both higher and lower than anything I’d ever heard on the piano.”
In her debut novel, Barbara Mutch has provided an interesting perspective on the apartheid era, focusing on how it affected women on both sides of that huge divide in South African society.
There was only a few times when she managed to be assertive, most notably when she the threatens the mayor/commissioner (cant exactly remember his title). But the ramifications of this are glossed over with comments like (paraphrasing) “people kept wanting me to join the revolution and speak out more but i wouldn’t.” Who were these people? How did the situation like outside of Cradock develop? I wanted more detail, more depth into the issues that the communities were facing and how they were dealing with it. I wanted more specific examples of the prejudice her and her daughter faced in both communities, how they dealt with it on a daily basis and what others in the same situation were experiencing. Instead we just get Ada running back to Cradock House whenever trouble is afoot and only a general description of ‘chaos’ or ‘trouble in Jo-burg’.
Dawn was a far more interesting character and I wish we heard more of her story instead.
What did I like? I found the scene at the doctor’s, when Ada brings Dawn in sick, the most moving, as well as the scenes dealing with Phil and his role in the war.
Overall there was a bit too much ‘dodging’ of hard topics and descriptions for me to recommend this book and not liking the main character/narrator always puts me off.