Tuesday, 27 July 2010
My Driver by Maggie Gee
My driver is the follow up to My Cleaner, which I loved when I read it. My cleaner was set in the UK, whereas My Driver picks up the same characters a few years later, but is set mainly in Uganda.
Mary Tendo is a Ugandan woman, who has worked for Vanessa Henman as a cleaner when she lived in London. They had a fairly turbulent relationship, and eventually Mary returns to Uganda, where she now lives with her boyfriend Charles, and their three year old daughter. She works in The Sheraton Hotel, which as the novel opens is preparing for writers conference, which numerous well known authors will be attending. Vanessa is preparing to leave for Uganda to attend this conference, and unknown to her, her ex-husband Trevor is also on his way out to Uganda, at Mary’s request, to build a well for the people in her village.
The book alternates between the experiences of all three of these people in Uganda, with each of them unaware that they are all present in Uganda at the same time. Obviously Mary is aware that Trevor is there, as she invited him, but neither of them know that Vanessa is in Uganda, and Vanessa is unaware of Trevor’s presence, and is unable to contact Mary, as the hotel she believed her to work at no longer exists. Adding to the intrigue of this are numerous scenes where they almost meet, are in the same place minutes after each other, or actually pass each other and fail to recognise each other. When they all do eventually meet, it is all very dramatic, if slightly far fetched, and pushes the boundaries of co-incidence just a little too far, but is also compulsively readable and incredibly moving.
There is also a thread running throughout of a wounded, half starved, child soldier running through this book. He is tormented by what he has seen and done, and although his identity has a huge significance upon the conclusion of the story, his presence is a stark reminder of the brutal conflict occurring in parts of Africa and the fear that Ugandan citizens are constantly living with. His identity is finally revealed at the conclusion, and his role in the bringing together of everybody was one of the elements I found just too co-incidental.
The main crux of the story revolves around these three characters, and their reactions to the experiences they have in Uganda. Vanessa faces some home truths about herself her status as a writer, and the consequences her rather uppity attitude to life has had on the people closest to her. And throughout her time in Uganda, we see both the publicly presented side of the country, as well as witnessing a slightly darker, poorer side of Africa, both through her eyes, and through Mary’s on her return to the village she grew up in.
What we do see in this novel is a shift in the characters mental attitudes, particularly that of the women. Vanessa is portrayed all the way through the previous book, and at the start of this one, as a self-righteous, self obsessed middle aged women with delusions of grandeur and an impression of her own superiority. Throughout this book, we see her gradually come to realise how life in Africa really is, and start to see the internal dilemmas she has with herself about how she has lived her life compared to how she should have lived it. Mary, however, just seems to get more extreme when she is in her own country. She was always feisty, and during her second stint in London stood up for what she wanted, but in her own country, she is downright obnoxious at times. I did like both women though, even if at times they were both incredible difficult to like!
There is also a definite shift in where my sympathies lay. In the previous novel it was Mary that appeared to be the more sympathetic character and the one that was a little hard done to at times. In this book Mary seemed to be much less likeable, and although Vanessa arrived with grand ideas, it didn’t take log for them to be stripped away by the harsh realities of life in Africa, and for her to come to some realisation of her luck and position in the world.
Although this book could quite easily be read without having read the previous novel, I think the aspect of reading this I enjoyed the most was see the character transformation and the subtle (and not so subtle) change in attitudes of the characters, over the period they have been apart, and their time in Uganda.
I did enjoy this book, although probably not quite as much as My Cleaner. It had the same mix of humour and seriousness as the previous one but I think the strong reliance on co-incidence and being in the right place at the right time, was just a little too much for me.