New in Book Reviews: The Housemaid’s Daughter

Author: Barbara Mutch

Publisher: Headline Publishing Group (Hachette UK)

  • Imprint: Headline Review

Date Published: January 1st, 2012

Format: Trade Paperback

Source: From Hachette UK Canada


Cathleen Harrington leaves her of her home in Ireland in 1919 to travel to South Africa and marry the fiance she has not seen for five years. Isolated and estranged in a harsh landscape, she finds solace in her diary and the friendship housemaid”s daughter, Ada. Cathleen recognizes in her someone she can love and respond to in a way that she cannot with her own husband and daughter. Under Cathleen”s tutelage, Ada grows into an accomplished pianist, and a reader who cannot resist turning the pages of the diary, discovering the secrets Cathleen sought to hide.

When Ada is compromised and finds she is expecting a mixed-race child, she flees her home, determined to spare Cathleen the knowledge of her betrayal, and the disgrace that would descend upon the family. Scorned within her own community, Ada is forced to carve a life for herself, her child, and her music. But Cathleen still believes in Ada, and risks the constraints of apartheid to search for her and persuade her to return with her daughter. Beyond the cruelty, there is love, hope – and redemption

Number of Days It Took to Read: 5


The cover is beautiful and it really reflects the relationship between the two main characters.

Memorable or Forgettable: Memorable


What a wonderfully touching story. Although I will not spoil it for you, I will say that the ending had me in tears. I have often heard this story being called a South African “The Help”, however I have yet to read The Help so I cannot make any comparisons. Still this was one of those books where I got exactly what was advertised plus much more. It was a story of an enduring friendship that went beyond age, race, and colour. In addition, by the setting the story during the apartheid I think it gives readers a chance to think and discuss issues like race and discrimination which can still be found even today.


Mutch’s writing is beautiful, at times very lyrical, especially when describing the sounds and the music that Ada hears and plays. The descriptions of the people and places featured in the novel are so vivid and rich that it sometimes feels like I am with Ada in South Africa during the 1950s.

The story is told in a first person narration from the point of view of Ada, the titular housemaid’s daughter. The author gives her an innocent and somewhat naïve voice which fits perfectly well with her character who has lived a very sheltered life. I liked how we also got to learn about the character of Cathleen through her journal entries which Ada would often read in secret. Many, including myself, may find the pacing throughout the book to be quite slow at certain moments but it is really one of those books that is meant to be slowly devoured as it can draw you in when you least expect it to.


The heroine, Ada is portrayed with so much vulnerability and innocence that even later on in the novel there are times that you forget she is no longer a young girl. I found that it was not that hard to really fall in love with her character as she showed so much inner strength and determination to do what she felt was right and best for the people she cared for. So even though she did not always make the right decision, her loyalty to her faith and her loved ones is what endears the reader to her character so they cannot help but cheer her on through her entire journey.

I loved the relationship between Ada and Cathleen, and it was nice to read a book where the maid was not blamed for what happened to her. While it was probably very hard for Cathleen to accept what had happened, she was able to look pass it all and still come out believing in Ada. This would have been very rare especially back then and so I admire the courage it took for Cathleen to stand by Ada no matter what she got herself into. Finally I found it quite refreshing that not only was the book heavily focused on strong female characters but it presented the female friendships Ada had in a positive and authentic manner.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Recommendation: Highly recommended

– Linh

The opinions expressed in this review are my own; I did not receive any compensation in exchange for this review.

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