It’s winter where I live, and I stumbled into the perfect book for a snow day when The Perfect Nanny became available at my local library. This book first caught my eye when The New York Times included it in their list of the top ten books of 2018, but if it’s inclusion on that list gives you pause, let me assure you that this is not a dense read at all. Having said that, The Perfect Nanny also has some really intelligent things that it’s saying rather subtly, so you come away from it with a lot to think about if you want to engage on that deeper level.
If you prefer to simply escape into a psychological thriller, this book works for that, too. The book opens with a shocking crime as a nanny has violently murdered the two children assigned to her care. The rest of the book moves back and forth in time to tell the story of both that nanny, Louise, and the couple she works for. And even though you know how badly this all ends, Slimani effortlessly builds suspense along the way. In a weird way, knowing the ending only enhances the feeling of losing control as the plot progresses, making you feel uneasy and full of dread.
Because I had a lot of other things going on getting ready for the holidays when I read this, I did not read it in one sitting, but I definitely believe this is a book that is perfect for a binge reading experience. Part of me wishes I had been allowed the time to tear through it the way I wanted to.
On a deeper level, Nanny says a lot of smart things. Mother Myriam struggles with her need for a fulfilling career and the expectations of motherhood while her husband is largely allowed to coast along without the same burden. Both have a frequently problematic approach to managing their “help” even though they also frequently experience a sort of liberal guilt about being elitist enough to have a nanny. That interplay is ripe for commentary, and Slimani does a great job showcasing the confusing, hypocritical nature of the relationship without condemning Myriam or her husband. Because on one level, Louise is part of the family: she’s there every day, she raises the kids, she cooks the meals, and she provides essential support to them. But the reality is that Louise is an employee who will never really be part of the family. It’s like The Help, but with a psychological bent to it.
And then there’s Louise, a damaged woman with nowhere to turn and mounting pressures whose efforts at living have only resulting in a sort of PTSD that has her on the razor’s edge. I do wish we had gotten to know Louise a bit better–it feels like we only scratch the surface of what goes on in her head, but she’s still a compelling figure in this book.
Whether you have a snow day, a holiday, or are just looking for a good read, you can’t go wrong hiring The Perfect Nanny to get the job done.