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21Sep

Top 10 books about cleaners

Authors from Barbara Ehrenreich to Damon Galgut highlight these undervalued workers and their sharp perspectives on those they tidy up after

Whether known as cleaners, charladies, housekeepers, janitors or maids, those who clean have recently been recast. Originally seen as either comical or sinister, they have become emblems of resilience, keeping chaos and Covid at bay. Next week, Paul Gallico’s enchanting comedy, Mrs Harris Goes to Paris, opens as a film with Leslie Manville in the lead. It will shine a spotlight on a job that has moved from that of supporting character to hero.

Perhaps the first cleaner in English literature is Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, associating “sweep(ing) the dust behind the door” with blessing a house. Yet mess, whether domestic or political, has long been seen as work for the female or unskilled. To those who resent the imposition of domestic order, cleaners can be sinister and even vengeful presences – most famously depicted in Jean Genet’s play, The Maids. But to those who feel only relief at having their filth lifted by someone else, the cleaner is a bringer of joy.

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