8 February 2018

The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani (translated by Sam Taylor)

*No spoilers....

The stacks of books at Costco always warrant a browse but they're usually available at the library, predictable, bereft of prose, and many simply fail to grab me.  I held up a copy of this book to show my husband what is currently gaining a long list of holds at the library.  Then I read the first sentence....'The baby is dead'As first sentences go, that's pretty heavy-hitting, and not my cup of tea.   But then I read the blurb on the first page stating it had won a literary prize, the Goncourt.  A prize awarded to the author of 'the best and most imaginative prose work of the year.'  Well, now I'm intrigued and my husband is heading towards the meat and cheese section with the cart so there's no more time for deciding.  I choose another copy from further below the pile and continue shopping.

Myriam and Paul live in a handsome building on Rue d'Hauteville, in Paris's tenth arrondissement.  Their home is of the proportion we usually associate with Europe, small but well utilized.  She is a lawyer, and he works in a famous recording studio.  Their story is as familiar as the sun rising each morning...once a couple bring children into the equation, life becomes even more of a balancing act and, at some point, you have to entrust them into someone else's care.  Enter Louise.  Petite, blonde, and fastidious to the point of a compulsion disorder.  She looks younger than her forty years and has a gift for drawing children toward her by knowing what will make them laugh.

The 228 pages of this book read like a novella.  The chapters are short as the reader is moved from apartment to park, from workday to weekend, from drinks after work to home.  I found myself  scrutinizing every new character.  Each person is from a cross-section of everyday life; perfectly average with slight behavioural differences which makes us all unique.  Sometimes those differences piqued my suspicions and there were several times I changed my mind about the possible perpetrator as it is almost too horrendous to contemplate the reality.  I was riveted!

This was a brilliant read and exactly the gear-shifting book I needed after bingeing my way through five volumes of the Cazalet Chronicles.  The Perfect Nanny is clever, with clean prose and fabulous pacing.  There's something about Slimani's writing that reminded me of Sarah Waters' books....a directness with words and structure that doesn't muck about and yet creates images of vast scope.  Slimani has a new fan.

Canal St-Martin in Paris's 10th Arrondissements


  1. It's very good, Mystica! I hope you can find a copy.

  2. It's riveting, Darlene. I'm 30 pages from the end and still undecided about the perpetrator.