A light start to my 2019 reading year with this fast-paced darling of 2018, a thriller that swept Europe, washing up on the shores of America in early 2018. Despite knowing I have next to zero luck with buzz books – the latest flavor of the month thriller – I tried hunting it down, anyway. It was the title that did it. I like the device of nannies as main characters; their narrative usefulness is broad. On the one hand, they can serve as vehicles to save children from bad parents or dire situations. On the other, they can be very bad people, indeed. What’s more horrifying than parents inadvertently leaving their children in the hands of a paid, supposedly vetted psychopath? Answer: precious little.
Nannies, well done, make for delicious characters.
When Myriam decides to return to work as a lawyer after having children, she and her husband look for the perfect nanny for their son and daughter. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite, devoted woman who sings to the children, cleans the family’s chic Paris apartment, stays late without complaint, and hosts enviable kiddie parties. But as the couple and the nanny become more dependent on one another, jealousy, resentment, and suspicions mount, shattering the idyllic tableau. Building tension with every page, The Perfect Nanny is a compulsive, riveting, bravely observed exploration of power, class, race, domesticity, motherhood, and madness—and the American debut of an immensely talented writer.
Ultimately, the point was moot because Barnes & Noble took its sweet time noticing the frenzied press the book was getting, neglecting to stock stores local to me. When I couldn’t find it and couldn’t be bothered ordering it, I blew it off. If it was meant to be, it would be. I had plenty else keeping me busy, and it was doubtful the book lived up to the hype, anyway.
Then December rolled around. I was out buying myself books as consolation prizes to soothe bumps and bruises earned in 2018 and there it was: that smoking hot novel with enticing title and cover art. It was wearing something slinky over those stockings with seams down the back, spiky patent shoes and a smoldering, come hither stare.
You want fifteen bucks? You got fifteen bucks.
It nailed it; I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. It’s a thriller, so you know whodunnit immediately. It’s the why that keeps you guessing. Why does a perfect nanny, more friend than employee, turn into a murderer?
So many reasons, at heart a very selfish, narcissistic one. It’s dreadful, just horrifying. Well done, Leila Slimani. You created a monster. Not every Amazon reader was a fan, but then half those predictably droned on about how unlikable the main character is. Psst … She’s a villain, that’s kind of the point. If she’d killed the children, but then turned into this charmingly quirky character you loved, would that have worked as a believable story?
“I’m cute and endearing, but whoops! Killed the kids!”
Womp, womp, womp …
Quit being ridiculous. When a writer’s trying to turn your stomach and succeeds, when you want to spit in the character’s face, she’s done her job. The cover blurb told you this wasn’t going to end well. You’re in the wrong section, Skippy. Trot along to Self Help, there’s a good boy.
The other main criticism leveled at The Perfect Nanny is the characters weren’t fleshed out enough. I agree, it was a bit spare. But also, it’s a translation. Details are always lost that way. I give some credence to those who wanted to know more, but a thriller writer is hobbled. She cannot tip her hand. All the weight of a thriller lies in not knowing the motivation of the bad guy until the very end. The less you know of the character, the less likely you are to guess what’s in her head. Could Slimani have pulled the curtain back a bit further? Yes, she could have. It’s a legitimate beef, but I’d rather she leaned toward vague than risked letting slip the crucial why before the very end. Had I guessed the denouement, I’d have flung the book in the garbage.
Leila Slimani did her job, and I enjoyed the time I spent with her writing. It absolutely flew. What’s funny is I’m struggling to recall many specifics. I’m thinking those people who complained things were a little too sparse may have been onto something but stand by my feeling she pulled it off. It’s well done, intelligent and paced nicely. It was New Year’s Eve, I was sitting alone concentrating on ignoring the fact it’s a holiday and I wasn’t spending it in Edinburgh, immersed in a book I’d been trying to procure, off and on, all year. It was exactly what I needed to read at exactly the right time
What’s left to say besides read it? Yes, do. Read it. If you enjoy thrillers, especially books about evil nannies who do terrible things, read it. Read the hell out of it. I’d be surprised if you came back and said “that was really awful; I hated it and now I hate you”, unless you don’t like books about psychos. I do really like books about psychos. Hell, I attract emotionally stunted, crazy people – not necessarily on purpose. It must be some pheromone I give off. They’re good company. Interesting, at least.
The Perfect Nanny is a kick starter. It’s that book to pick up when you’re stuck, when you’re restless and can’t think what to read next. On the beach? Read The Perfect Nanny! On a plane? The Perfect Nanny!
Patterson and Grisham are shit. Read The Perfect Nanny!
Wow. That was fun. Let’s call this a review palate cleanser and back away slowly.
Since The Perfect Nanny, I’ve read one hell of a great book deserving of its National Book Award win. It’s decidedly not forgettable, spare nor lacking detail, not a book for the beach. It’s emotionally exhausting, especially if you’ve ever lost an unrequited or impossible love, left wondering if a best friend could have been a one, true love of a lifetime. Maybe you already knew it was so, but had no power to change anything. And then that person’s dead – in this case, by his own hand. It’s brutal and wonderful. Wonderfully brutal.
It’s Sigrid Nunez’s phenomenal The Friend, and it’ll be up next.
Meanwhile, my home office is getting much closer to being set up, and I’m writing this on my new desktop computer. Scribbled novel and memoir drafts haven’t been transcribed, since I haven’t shelled out for MS Office, but that’s coming. Soon. Right now I cringe at the cost, but let’s face it, there’s no choice.
Also working on reading Moby Dick and associated books about the book and Herman Melville, the 200th birthday boy of 2019. That’s in the midst of nesting in my new place, acclimating two nervous rescue cats and coming to terms with What’s Next for Me.
It’s been busy. Always is.