For two years during grad school, I worked as a nanny. So I tend to avoid books or movies about nannies, because seeing it from a distance is kind of a weird experience. Being a nanny is such a strange and intimate job – you end up falling in love with a kid that’s not your own, and you most likely know more about your employers than you do about most of your friends – and it really isn’t like anything else I’ve ever done. I also had a great experience, and I wouldn’t want anything to ruin that. But I made an exception when I kept seeing Leila Slimani’s The Perfect Nanny around, because I was in the mood for a good thriller.
(All reviews are spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.)
(From Goodreads) 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 am still not entirely sure how I feel about The Perfect Nanny. On one hand, it was a predictable “thriller” that had absolutely none of the excitement you would expect from a thriller. On the other, it was an exploration of family dynamics from a unique and horrifying perspective. There were moments I really enjoyed this book. It wasn’t at all a challenge to read; I found myself drawn to it every time I put it down. While I wouldn’t call my experience in reading this novel enjoyable, it was unique enough to keep me interested.
I did enjoy the premise of this book. I was curious as to how the author was going to push Louise to the breaking point. However, in that respect, I think she fell just a little bit short. It was a stretch to believe that the circumstances could drive Louise to do what she did, and I wish the author had delved deeper into her mental state. Based on Louise’s actions, there was a very clear point where she went over the edge, but it wasn’t totally clear what caused it. I felt like I was supposed to identify with her, I wanted to identify with her, but her quirks were just a bit much, even in the beginning.
I also have mixed feelings about how women are represented in this book. While it did feel realistic, it also felt very stereotypical in a lot of ways. It was almost like the author was characterizing certain types of women, which may have been what she was going for, but I found myself wanting more dimension, character-wise. I don’t think it was a negative representation, just a bit flat. I do wonder how much was lost in translation (The Perfect Nanny was originally written in French), because that might be an interesting comparison.
The Perfect Nanny tells the reader exactly what to expect in the first chapter. The majority of the book tells the story leading up to that heart-wrenching ending. I completely understand the controversy about the ending of this book. Personally, I enjoy open endings, and have no problem with ambiguity, if done well. Here, it felt like the climax was just completely left out of the novel. Pacing-wise, it was a huge letdown. I think it might have worked had there been more suspense leading up to it, but this book – while advertised as a thriller – had no suspense. I didn’t hate it, but I’m definitely confused.
★★★☆☆ – I had quite a bit of trouble rating this book. At times, it felt like a four-star read, and there were moments when it moved down to two stars. So The Perfect Nanny gets three stars from me. I found it interesting and the story was unique, but I couldn’t connect to the characters as much as I wanted to and the story as a whole was not engaging or exciting.
If you’ve read The Perfect Nanny, what did you think? Is this a case of getting lost in translation, or is it another Gone Girl-esque novel that didn’t completely work?
The Perfect Nanny is available in bookstores now (the French version has been out for a while, but the English translation is a new release). You can get your copy on Amazon.
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