[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]
Leila Slimani’s 2016 novel, translated by Sam Taylor and published in English in 2018. I read a Penguin Books paperback from the library.
4 out of 5 stars.
Times Read: 1
A beloved nanny kills two children under her care, to the horror and confusion of all.
Calling this book The Perfect Nanny gives the wrong impression. The title/cover combination made me think I was getting a melodramatic Hand That Rocks the Cradle thriller. In French, the title is Chanson Douce, which translates to “sweet/soft/gentle song” or “lullaby” and suits the story so much better.
Because of the quote on the back comparing it to Gone Girl (and, perhaps, because of my misunderstanding of Gone Girl), I thought this was a mystery. I thought we were being led to assume the nanny (Louise) was the killer, but it would be revealed that someone else (her disappeared daughter, the younger nanny she befriends, her older lover) had broken in and committed the murders, framing her. Louise’s name is not used in the first chapter (where we see the aftermath of the attack) but she is the killer and I think Slimani wants us to know this from the start; the story is not a mystery, it is an exploration of stress and weakness and the weight of social expectation. And it is very good.
The Perfect Nanny is mostly told in present tense with the occasional bit in past tense. The chapters are 3-5 page vignettes, sometimes with a name at the start (Stephanie, Rose Grinberg, Jacques, Hector Rouvier). At first, I thought these names were suspects. Now, I’m not sure why they’re there. They are not needed; we quickly understand who is being discussed and their relationship to Louise. If they are supposed to be represent the people who caused extreme stress to Louise, then why don’t we get chapters titled Bertrand Alizard and Wafa? (If anyone has ideas on the reasoning behind the chapter names, I’d love to hear them!)
The book is most powerful with the characterizations of Louise and Myriam (the mother of the murdered children). Both women are filled with complexity and nuance and Myriam’s pain, the horror she receives for pursing her loved career, hits so hard.