THE PERFECT NANNY by Leila Slimani
Penguin Books; 1/9/18
CBTB Rating: 4/5
The Verdict: sophisticated, subtle suspense
Never will I ever pass up the chance to explore new international crime fiction, so when I heard of French-Moroccan author Leila Slimani’s award-winning crime novel THE PERFECT NANNY (on sale 1/9/18), I knew I had to give it a shot -- and I’m so glad I did. This subtle, sophisticated suspense story is unnerving in its simplicity: THE PERFECT NANNY traces the events leading up to the death of two children, focusing on the integration of a new nanny into a family. It’s easy to see why Slimani’s novel won the Goncourt Prize (France’s most prestigious literary award); this book’s elegant prose, sharp plotting, and masterful blend of suspense and literary fiction combine to deliver an outstanding crime novel that will appeal to readers looking for an understated - yet distinctly sinister - story of suspense.
She has the keys to their apartment. She knows everything. She has embedded herself so deeply in their lives that it now seems impossible to remove her.
When Myriam, a French-Moroccan lawyer, decides to return to work after having children, she and her husband look for the perfect nanny for their two young children. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite, devoted woman who sings to the children, cleans the family’s chic apartment in Paris’s upscale tenth arrondissement, 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, and motherhood—and the American debut of an immensely talented writer.
Right off the bat, it’s worth discussing the comparison that is already being drawn between this book and the (now infamous) GONE GIRL. To keep things short and sweet: this comparison is totally inaccurate. Don’t misunderstand - this is not a negative to be held against THE PERFECT NANNY. But if you’re in the market for a psychological thriller with the pacing and action of GONE GIRL, you will be sorely disappointed here. THE PERFECT NANNY thrills not with plot twists and blood, but with understated suggestions of violence that’s to come, but violence which is very limited on the page. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a subtle suspense novel, but I would hesitate to recommend this book to readers looking for the next GONE GIRL.
That being said, THE PERFECT NANNY more than stands on its own merits. First - and perhaps most significantly - Slimani is an outstanding writer. THE PERFECT NANNY is smooth and sophisticated, belying the author’s confidence and skill. Readers will find themselves swept along in a story that is as sparse as it is technically beautiful. Woven into this compelling story are sharp and poignant instances of commentary on race, motherhood, and class - a compelling blend that provokes thought beyond the page. My experience with French crime fiction is relatively limited, but I have been thoroughly impressed with the quality of storytelling in the translated French crime fiction I have read. Slimani’s novel is no exception - this compulsively readable little book is a knockout, from its keen insight to its disturbing central character.
THE PERFECT NANNY is a sharp and chilling blend of crime plotline and literary delivery. Its plot is utterly, completely frightening: a mother decides to return to work, and hires a new nanny to care for her children. But something isn’t quite right about their new nanny, and the family soon finds themselves seemingly inextricably tied to a woman whose presence becomes increasingly troubling. This plot alone sounds quintessentially “psychological thriller,” and its opening scene seems to set the tone for a truly dark, twisted read. THE PERFECT NANNY opens with a gut-punch: the discovery of two children’s corpses. From there, the story backpedals, drawing the reader into the events leading up to this despicable crime -- focused closely on the nanny whose presence changes this family forever. These elements are textbook crime fiction, and they are utterly affecting and addictive.
At the same time, THE PERFECT NANNY is far from your standard crime fiction fare: its exploration of the nanny’s infiltration of this family is subtle and nuanced, sparing the reader any grisly details, choosing instead to hint at rather than fully reveal the darkness surrounding the story’s mysterious Louise. The story’s first scene - that in-your-face shocking opener - provides the reader with a visceral and disturbing framework through which to view the story’s subsequent actions, but the book never again replicates this overt suspense. Slimani relies on subtle tension to develop darkness, a style that is no less effective - simply one to be aware of when considering this book for your own reading list. If you’re a reader who is open to a crime novel that uses suggestion to hint at the evils occurring at the periphery of the story, THE PERFECT NANNY will be right up your alley.
Interestingly, THE PERFECT NANNY relies on very limited and calculated character development to deliver its brand of sinister suspense. Certainly, readers are drawn into the life of nanny Louise to a certain degree - but I never felt that I truly got to know her. Under normal circumstances, this would be a negative for me… but in THE PERFECT NANNY, this writing style seemed to work beautifully. Slimani approaches her suspense story with a clinical detachment that made this read all the more chilling, and the author’s decision to allow Louise to maintain her sense of mystery and unpredictability served to further the sense of foreboding surrounding her. The idea of inviting someone into your home without really knowing this person scared me to my core, and the author’s calculating style allowed this story, and its central character, to breathe and develop at their own unique pace. Perhaps best of all: even at the story’s conclusion, the reader still never has the fullest sense of Louise. All that’s clear is that this quietly deranged woman has ruined the life of an innocent family forever.
THE PERFECT NANNY is a truly exceptional piece of psychological suspense that will appeal to readers looking for a unique and subtle crime novel. This will not be the right choice for a reader hoping for a twisty-turny, breakneck pace thriller, but it will perfectly suit the reader who prefers to be chilled by twisted subtleties and sinister implications. Slimani is an outstanding writer, and THE PERFECT NANNY is sure to deliver one of Spring 2018’s standout crime reads.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions my own.
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books; Translation edition (January 9, 2018)
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