9780143132172 Leila Slimani’s Prix Goncourt-​winning novel delves into the tor­mented mind of Louise, the ulti­mate nanny, who dou­bles as house­keeper, gourmet chef, and orga­nizer of chil­drens’ par­ties and out­ings, with­out extra pay. She’s also a work­ing parent’s worse night­mare: a woman whose doll-​like, Mary Pop­pins exte­rior con­ceals a dam­aged psy­che rife with resent­ment, obses­sion, and rage.

THE PER­FECT NANNY chron­i­cles the rela­tion­ship between Paul and Myr­iam, two ambi­tious pro­fes­sion­als in Paris’s tony 10th arrondisse­ment, and Louise, the nanny too good to be true who does the unthinkable.

She’s our employee, not our friend,” Paul reminds his wife, but because Louise has become so invalu­able, it’s a point they both keep con­ve­niently overlooking.

There’s no mys­tery here as far as the crime. On the first page, we’re told, “The baby is dead.” The ques­tion, of course, is not who mur­dered baby Adam and his older sis­ter Mila, but what demons drove Louise to kill them. To that end, Sli­mani takes us into her stark and lonely world, the sparse apart­ment where she spends as lit­tle time as pos­si­ble, the abu­sive hus­band who left her with crush­ing debts, the land­lord who hounds her for money.

Her days spent in her employ­ers’ chic apart­ment mean free­dom to Louise, and she makes the most of them. With the older child at school and the par­ents work­ing, she lux­u­ri­ates in a long, hot shower, then glides nude around the apart­ment, her skin pearles­cent with Miryam’s expen­sive creams.

Only occa­sion­ally does the unseemly sur­face, as when Paul comes home to find Louise has tarted up his daugh­ter in full glam­our make-​up. Dis­gusted, he pulls away from Louise after that, but by then the unequal rela­tion­ship has pro­gressed too far, mak­ing Louise almost impos­si­ble to dis­lodge. While Louise obsesses over whether Myr­iam is preg­nant again, the par­ents pon­der ways to grace­fully let her go. It’s that ter­ri­ble dis­par­ity – the nanny’s fan­tasies of being part of a fam­ily when she is, in fact, hired help – that brings the novel back full cir­cle to its dev­as­tat­ing open­ing lines.

Although the end­ing dis­ap­points, leav­ing the reader to the obser­va­tions of the police detec­tive going over the scene, as a whole I found the novel engross­ing on many lev­els – as a crime thriller and as a social com­men­tary on class dis­tinc­tion, eco­nomic dis­par­ity, and motherhood.

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