In her last novel, The Flood, Maggie Gee created a futuristic vision of an apocalyptic world, re-imagining London as a sodden metropolis about to be engulfed by a tsunami. By contrast My Cleaner is set largely within the confines of a middle-class house in London, just one of many such houses ‘like lost worlds, detached from each other, buried in trees, overgrown with plants and strangled with secrets’. But in elegantly telling an apparently simple story of the changing balance of power between Vanessa Henman, a middle-aged white Englishwoman, and Mary Tendo, a black Ugandan woman who used to clean for her, Gee gradually illuminates all sorts of emotional complexity.
Vanessa, a single parent and novelist turned creative-writing teacher, is facing a crisis. Believing herself to have achieved professional success and been a wonderful mother, she cannot understand why her 22-year-old son Justin is so depressed he hardly leaves his bedroom. At his suggestion, and very much in desperation, Vanessa