The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani
Published by Penguin Books on January 9, 2018
Genre(s): fiction, contemporary, mystery, suspense
Format & Length: paperback, 228
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When Myriam, a mother and brilliant French-Moroccan lawyer, decides to return to work, she and her husband are forced to look for a caretaker for their two young children. They are thrilled to find Louise: the perfect nanny right from the start. Louise sings to the children, cleans the family’s beautiful apartment in Paris’s upscale tenth arrondissement, stays late whenever asked, and hosts enviable kiddie parties. But as the couple and the nanny become more dependent on each other, jealousy, resentment, and frustrations mount, shattering the idyllic tableau.
I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews for The Perfect Nanny, and wondered when I picked it up which camp I’d fall in. In the end, I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about this book, so I’m going straight up the middle of the road with it.
“The baby is dead.”
Starting out with quite a bang, from the very first page you know what happened. The question is, why? After the opening, it backs up to tell the rest of the story leading back up to that scene to deduce the why. Unfortunately, I found the answers (or non-answers) in that regard to be lacking, with a weak ending that never fully explained certain aspects. Then again, I’m a reader who prefers more closure; those who like more open ended conclusions will probably be more inclined to appreciate it.
The Perfect Nanny is more slow burning character study than plot driven. And the characters certainly were complex and intriguing. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about them and trying to understand what drove each person to act the way they did. Given the focus on character, though, I was disappointed in what I thought to be an inconsistency in one of the main character’s behaviors. Namely, Myriam, the mother and lawyer who constantly stresses being completely truthful, fails to communicate honestly with Louise, the nanny, staying silent instead of speaking up. And this is a big deal as the rest of this story could have been entirely avoided otherwise. Maybe it’s just me; I haven’t seen other readers with this issue. Or maybe that was the author’s intention to show how hypocritical people can be. Regardless, it clearly struck a nerve for me and affected my overall enjoyment of the book. (If you have thoughts on this matter, please let me know!)
This probably sounds like I didn’t like this book at all, and that’s not the case. I liked the writing style very much. Translated books can be tricky in that regard, but the chosen words and phrases created a tense atmosphere that enhanced the storytelling. It’s also a short book, and the combination made this a quick, easy read that I finished within a day.
The Perfect Nanny isn’t a book I’d recommend for everyone. If you like books with more resolution, I suggest looking elsewhere. But if you’re all about slow burning character studies, it might be worth a borrow and a couple hours of your time.