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.
“She gave the baby a bath and thought to herself that this happiness–this simple, silent, prisonlike happiness–was not enough to console her.”
I really struggled to put my thoughts together on this book, partially because The Perfect Nanny was not what I had expected and one of the more unique stories I’ve ever read. I feel that it is mis-marketed as a mystery thriller when it was neither, to me this is a horror novel through and through. I think I would have liked this book better if I had known this beforehand.
The plot is slow and very intense as a portrait of Louise is formed from the point of views of other characters and their interactions with her. It occurred to me after a time that the shifting narration was important, because it presents the story of the “perfect nanny” almost like a ghost story, like the witness statement to the police about the perpetrator.
The prose is taut and very precise, creating an uncomfortable, almost suffocating atmosphere for the reader. This is definitely an introspective novel, with a lot of commentary on the roles of women as caregivers and French society. It’s an interesting character study and I enjoyed it quite a bit, especially after I took some time to let the story sink in. If you’re looking for a traditional mystery with a cause and exciting climax you’ll find yourself disappointed.
Also a bit of trivia, but I found out after I had finished the book that the story is loosely based off of a real tragedy that happened back in 2012. Just knowing this little bit of information makes the story that much more chilling.
Strengths: Excellent character study, social commentary, good prose, unsettling
Weaknesses: Lots of useless side characters, mild translation errors, mislabeled as a thriller
Warnings: Child abuse, violence, gore, death, mentions of sex