Title: The Perfect Nanny
Author: Leila Slimani; Translated by Sam Taylor
Publisher: Penguin Press
Publication Date: January 09, 2018 (first published in French on August 18, 2019)
Genre: Adult Fiction, Thriller, Suspense, Murder
Rating: 4 Stars
Named one of the best ten books of the year by The New York Times Book Review, Leïla Slimani’s instant national bestseller, The Perfect Nanny is a chilling, unusual story that kept me up for 3 evenings with the creepy, unsettling knowledge that something bad was on its way. It is one of those subtle, quiet stories that psychologically gets under your skin and racks your brain in a way that leaves you at the same time deeply disturbed and intensely vulnerable.
The Perfect Nanny begins just as it ends with a graphic image of the violent deaths of two young children, murdered at the hands of their all too perfect nanny. The author sets up a haunting framework for the story from the very beginning – the reader knows the fates of the young children from the very first few pages. It is this combination of the dark and eerie with the prim perfect facade played by the nanny that made this novel a terrifying story to unravel and grapple with.
Myriam and Paul are the unfortunate parents of two young children. They live in a flat in an upscale neighborhood in central Paris. Myriam is a criminal defense lawyer and her husband worlds in the music industry. After weeks of interviews with nannies, when they meet Louise, so composed, so experienced, so ideal, they immediately hire her. In the first few weeks and months on the job, Louise bestows such good grace on the family and impresses Myriam and Paul with just how wonderfully she can take care of the children between playtime, meals, cleaning, and bedtime. Louise weaves her way and solidifies a place in the family’s life that causes her to become invaluable – a crutch that the parents increasingly depend upon. Louise spends more and more time in the family’s home, comes on trips with them, and begins passing more and more hours in the family’s apartment than in her own rickety apartment on the outskirts of the city. Louise brings peace, stability, and joy to the family’s home. She is indispensable to Paul and Myriam, and even when her mean streaks begin to surface, her place in the family is so disturbingly clear that it becomes impossible, and even dangerous to say ‘goodbye.’
Through a wave of flashbacks the reader learns about Louise’s past, speckled with sinister events, her disturbed mind that stealthily lead to her acts of violence. Told in the third person from multiple perspectives, the eerie events transpiring prior to the fateful tragedy creates a dreadful tone, foreshadowing the inevitable ending to come. It is under this context that Louise embeds herself in the lives of this average Parisian family, struggling like any other family, against expectations of class, financial stability, and raising children by career-driven parents. The social commentary really speaks to Parisian society today with its views on working mothers, racial tensions, and the disputes between the broadening separation between the upper and middle/lower classes. The novel also grapples with psychological questions such as what brings a human to commit murder. Is it hatred? Is it jealousy? Or is it just pure boredom?
The Perfect Nanny is written in such beautiful prose that, though I was left chilled by the storyline, the author’s delicate treatment of her subjects was beautiful the point of heart breaking. Slimani taps emotional and societal themes, influencing and, at least for me, changing the reader’s perceptions and initial prototypes of nannies and their place in a family’s home. This is a deeply thought provoking story that deserves all the awards and hype it has received, burrowing deep and racking the readers mind, leaving its audience unsettled and immensely uneasy as they close they turn to the last page with more questions than there is room in the novel to answer.