Cover image for The perfect nanny : a novel / Leila Slimani ; translated from the French by Sam Taylor.
Title:
The perfect nanny : a novel / Leila Slimani ; translated from the French by Sam Taylor.
ISBN:
9780143132172
Publication Information:
New York, New York : Penguin Books, [2018]
Physical Description:
228 pages ; 20 cm
Abstract:
"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"-- Provided by publisher.
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Summary

Summary

"One of the most important books of the year." --NPR's Weekend Edition
"Extraordinary." -- The New Yorker
"The first 'hot' novel of 2018." -- The Washington Post
"You won't move until you reach the last page." -- People

Named One of 2018's Most Anticipated Books by NPR's Weekend Edition, Real Simple, The Millions, The Guardian, Bustle, and Book Riot

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.

The #1 international bestseller and winner of France's most prestigious literary prize, the Goncourt


Author Notes

Leila Slimani is the first Moroccan (and pregnant) woman to win France's most prestigious literary prize, the Goncourt, which she won for The Perfect Nanny. A journalist and frequent commentator on women's and human rights, she is French president Emmanuel Macron's personal representative for the promotion of the French language and culture. Born in Rabat, Morocco, in 1981, she now lives in Paris with her French husband and their two young children.


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Slimani received France's Goncourt Prize for this unsettling tale of a nanny who insinuates herself into every aspect of her employers' lives, with tragic results. When Parisian housewife Myriam Massé accepts a job as a lawyer, she and her husband, Paul, hire Louise, an unassuming, doll-like woman in her 40s, to watch their two children. Initially enamored of Louise's quiet competence, delicious cooking, and constant availability, Myriam and Paul eventually find her dominating their lives in unwelcome ways. As they steel themselves for a confrontation, Louise preempts them in a shocking act of violence. Slimani expertly probes Myriam's guilt at leaving her children with a stranger and the secret economy of nannies in Paris's tony professional districts. Taylor's spare, understated translation underscores the quiet desperation, economic struggles, and crushing loneliness that build to Louise's final act. Those seeking a thought-provoking character study will appreciate this gripping anatomy of a crime. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


New York Review of Books Review

WHEN A character in a crime novel snaps and kills a child, it's usually a mother stressed beyond endurance. In Leila Slimani's unnerving cautionary tale, THE PERFECT NANNY (Penguin, paper, $16), subtly translated by Sam Taylor, we know from the outset that it's a beloved and trusted nanny who murders the two children in her care. That's pretty radical for a domestic thriller; but what's more remarkable about this unconventional novel (which was awarded France's prestigious Prix Goncourt) is the author's intimate analysis of the special relationship between a mother and a nanny. Myriam and Paul, the Parisian couple who hire Louise to help care for their son and daughter, are delighted to discover that she's "a miracle worker" who cleans, reorganizes the household and even cooks delicious meals. "Nothing rots, nothing expires" in Louise's kitchen. At first, they bask in their unexpected comfort, "like spoiled children, like purring cats." Much too late, Myriam realizes that the new nanny may not be entirely benevolent: "She is Vishnu, the nurturing divinity, jealous and protective." But already Louise "has embedded herself so deeply in their lives that it now seems impossible to remove her." Despite Myriam's fears, Louise has no intention of replacing her as the woman of the house; rather, in her pathological loneliness, the nanny increasingly fantasizes that she has become a de facto member of the family. Slimani writes devastatingly perceptive character studies. Dropping their children at day care, the mothers are "rushed and sad," the children "little tyrants." She also raises painful questions. Could Myriam be projecting onto her nanny her own forbidden desire to be free of her children and their insatiable needs? ("They're eating me alive," she thinks.) Is there an element of racial prejudice in the Moroccanborn Myriam's attitude toward her French nanny? Is Louise's pitiless act the transference of her forbidden feelings about her privileged employer? One thing is clear: Loneliness can drive you crazy, and extreme loneliness can make you homicidal. THE INTENSE thrills of Thomas Perry's THE BOMB MAKER (Mysterious Press, $26) are almost unbearable. After sweating through a scene in which a member of the Los Angeles Police Department Bomb Squad narrowly escapes a lethal explosion, we're knocked back by the loss of 14 team technicians - half the squad - who are blown to smithereens. "Bombs were acts of murder," Perry writes, but "they were also jokes on you, riddles the bomber hoped were too tough for you." Dick Stahl, who steps in to head the depleted squad, doesn't get the joke, but he goes mano a mano with the abominable riddler, whose clear intention is to destroy those who respond to his devilishly clever booby traps. There seems to be no pattern to the placement of these "welldesigned, insidious and psychologically astute" devices, which turn up at a gas station, a school cafeteria and a hospital ward. Before they go off, the tension is killing. And when they do, the damage is spectacular. DRIVING UP AND DOWN Utah's desolate Route 117 with the trucker Ben Jones is an education. LULLABY ROAD (Crown, $26), James Anderson's second novel (after "The Never-Open Desert Diner"), introduces us to more of the "desert rats, hardscrabble ranchers and other assorted exiles" who choose to live off the grid and depend on Ben's Desert Moon Delivery Service for food and water and the occasional luxury, like soap. Some of Ben's customers are deep thinkers like Roy Cuthbert, who suggests holding Second Amendment Days ("with a huge gun show and fast-draw competition") to save the town of Rockmuse from sinking into the desert sands. Other, more desperate people, like Pedro, the tire man at the Stop 'n' Gone Truck Stop, trust him to transport a small child and a large dog in his 28-foot tractortrailer rig. Ben is nothing if not a decent man, and Anderson rewards him with a deadly adventure and the most poetic prose this side of Salt Lake City. KAREN ELLIS'S A MAP OF THE DARK (Mulholland/Little, Brown, $26) is a valiant, if unsuccessful attempt to contain an intensely personal narrative within the structure of a traditional police procedural. Special Agent Elsa Myers of the F.B.I.'s Child Abduction Rapid Deployment division is assigned to the case of 17-year-old Ruby Haverstock, who went missing after finishing her shift at a cafe in Queens. Even from the little we learn about her, Ruby seems like a clever, resourceful girl. (As her kidnapper drags her off to a cave in the woods, she drops several rings to create a trail of clues.) For some reason that isn't made clear, this particular case awakens Myers's memories of mistreatment at the hands of her unstable and abusive mother. That may shed some light on the agent's secret habit of cutting herself with the Swiss Army knife she keeps with her at all times. ("The puncture of metal, the breaking of skin, comes with a rush of sensation that assures you that you are real after all.") But it doesn't begin to explain how she can cut herself until she bleeds and still handle such a demanding and dangerous job. Marilyn STASIO has covered crime fiction for the Book Review since 1988. Her column appears twice a month.


Library Journal Review

This spare domestic thriller, the first book by a Moroccan-born woman to win the Prix Goncourt, starts out innocuously enough with French Moroccan lawyer Myriam struggling with two young children and ashamed of being a stay-at-home mom. When she decides to return to work, she and husband Paul interview a number of unsuitable candidates as nanny until coming upon the supercompetent, highly recommended Louise, whose delicate blonde looks belie her powerhouse capabilities. At first, Louise does her job with gusto, truly taking to the children; Myriam and Paul are relieved, though Myriam feels a bit edged out as mother. But as family and nanny become more entwined, with the family even inviting Louise on vacation, resentments grow on both sides. Louise becomes increasingly sullen, and a sudden act of violence shocks the narrative to life, even as we learn Louise's unfortunate backstory. VERDICT What initially feels like routine, unremarkable women's fiction morphs into a darkly propulsive nail-biter overlain with a vivid and piercing study of class tensions. For most readers. © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

"My nanny is a miracle-worker." That is what Myriam says when she describes Louise's sudden entrance into their lives. She must have magical powers to have trans­formed this stifling, cramped apartment into a calm, light- filled place. Louise has pushed back the walls. She has made the cupboards deeper, the drawers wider. She has let the sun in.  On the first day, Myriam gives her a few instructions. She shows her how the appliances work. Pointing to an object or a piece of clothing, she repeats: "Be careful with that. I'm very attached to it." She makes recommendations about Paul's vinyl collection, which the children must not touch. Louise nods, silent and docile. She observes each room with the self-assurance of a general standing before a territory he is about to conquer. In the weeks that follow her arrival, Louise turns this hasty sketch of an apartment into an ideal bourgeois inte­rior. She imposes her old-fashioned manners, her taste for perfection. Myriam and Paul can't get over it. She sews the buttons back on to jackets that they haven't worn for months because they've been too lazy to look for a needle. She hems skirts and pairs of trousers. She mends Mila's clothes, which Myriam was about to throw out without a qualm. Louise washes the curtains yellowed by tobacco and dust. Once a week, she changes the sheets. Paul and Myriam are overjoyed. Paul tells her with a smile that she is like Mary Poppins. He isn't sure she understands the compliment. At night, in the comfort of their clean sheets, the cou­ple laughs, incredulous at their new life. They feel as if they have found a rare pearl, as if they've been blessed. Of course, Louise's wages are a burden on the family budget, but Paul no longer complains about that. In a few weeks, Louise's presence has become indispensable.   When Myriam gets back from work in the evenings, she finds dinner ready. The children are calm and clean, not a hair out of place. Louise arouses and fulfills the fantasies of an idyllic family life that Myriam guiltily nurses. She teaches Mila to tidy up behind herself and her parents watch dumbstruck as the little girl hangs her coat on the peg. Useless objects have disappeared. With Louise, noth­ing accumulates anymore: no dirty dishes, no dirty laun­dry, no unopened envelopes found later under an old magazine. Nothing rots, nothing expires. Louise never ne­glects anything. Louise is scrupulous. She writes every­thing down in a little flower-covered notebook. The times of the dance class, school outings, doctor's appointments. She copies the names of the medicines the children take, the price of the ice creams she bought for them at the fairground, and the exact words that Mila's schoolteacher said to her. After a few weeks, she no longer hesitates to move ob­jects around. She empties the cupboards completely, hangs little bags of lavender between the coats. She makes bouquets of flowers. She feels a serene contentment when--with Adam asleep and Mila at school-- she can sit down and contemplate her task. The silent apartment is completely under her power, like an enemy begging for forgiveness. But it's in the kitchen that she accomplishes the most extraordinary wonders. Myriam has admitted to her that she doesn't know how to cook anything and doesn't really want to learn. The nanny prepares meals that Paul goes into raptures about and the children devour, without a word and without anyone having to order them to finish their plate. Myriam and Paul start inviting friends again, and they are fed on blanquette de veau , pot-au-feu , ham hock with sage and delicious vegetables, all lovingly cooked by Louise. They congratulate Myriam, shower her with compliments, but she always admits: "My nanny did it all."   When Mila is at school, Louise attaches Adam to her in a large wrap. She likes to feel the child's chubby thighs against her belly, his saliva that runs down her neck when he falls asleep. She sings all day for this baby, praising him for his laziness. She massages him, taking pride in his folds of flesh, his round pink cheeks. In the mornings, the child welcomes her with gurgles, his plump arms reaching out for her. In the weeks that follow Louise's arrival, Adam learns to walk. And this boy who used to cry every night sleeps peacefully until morning. Mila is wilder. She is a small, fragile girl with the pos­ture of a ballerina. Louise ties her hair in buns so tight that the girl's eyes look slanted, pulled toward her tem­ples. Like that, she resembles one of those medieval hero­ines with a broad forehead, a cold and noble expression. Mila is a difficult, exhausting child. Any time she becomes irritated, she screams. She throws herself to the ground in the middle of the street, stamps her feet, lets herself be dragged along to humiliate Louise. When the nanny crouches down and tries to speak to her, Mila turns away. She counts out loud the butterflies on the wallpaper. She watches herself in the mirror when she cries. This child is obsessed by her own reflection. In the street, her eyes are riveted to shop windows. On several occasions she has bumped into lampposts or tripped over small obstacles on the sidewalk, distracted by the contemplation of her own image. Mila is cunning. She knows that crowds stare, and that Louise feels ashamed in the street. The nanny gives in more quickly when they are in public. Louise has to take detours to avoid the toyshop on the avenue, where the lit­tle girl stands in front of the window and screams. On the way to school, Mila drags her feet. She steals a raspberry from a greengrocer's stall. She climbs on to windowsills, hides in porches, and runs away as fast as her legs will carry her. Louise tries to go after her while pushing the stroller, yelling the girl's name, but Mila doesn't stop until she comes to the very end of the sidewalk. Sometimes Mila regrets her bad behavior. She worries about Louise's paleness and the frights she gives her. She becomes loving again, cuddly. She makes it up to the nanny, clinging to her legs. She cries and wants to be mothered. Slowly, Louise tames the child. Day after day, she tells her stories, where the same characters always recur. Or­phans, lost little girls, princesses kept as prisoners, and castles abandoned by terrible ogres. Strange beasts--birds with twisted beaks, one-legged bears and melancholic unicorns--populate Louise's landscapes. The little girl falls silent. She stays close to the nanny, attentive, impatient. She asks for certain characters to come back. Where do these stories come from? They emanate from Louise, in a continual flood, without her even thinking about it, with­out her making the slightest effort of memory or imagina­tion. But in what black lake, in what deep forest has she found these cruel tales where the heroes die at the end, after first saving the world? Excerpted from The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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