“The Perfect Nanny”
“The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds. The doctor said he didn’t suffer.” The Perfect Nanny, by Leila Slimani, begins with this bold statement and from there delves into a literary study of mothers, fathers, guilt, happiness, class, and racism.
I made the horrible mistake of reading Shutter Island one month post-partum with my second child. The horror of that story waited until the last pages to unleash its emotional fury on my new-mommy brain. For years after my children’s births, I avoided Dateline-esque shows involving the awful things done to children. It just isn’t something I could stomach. And now, many years out, it is still not something I seek out. This novel is different.
From the opening pages, you know the fate of the children. And, it is not dwelled upon. It is simply a reference to frame the story as it unfolds. Every time the little boy, Adam, runs to his nanny in delight, you know his fate. Each time the little girl, Mila, pouts or is a quintessential four year-old, you know her fate.
The novel focuses largely on the title character, the nanny, Louise. She comes to the upper middle-class French family, the Massés, as a ray of light in a dark time. The children’s mother, Myriam, is well-educated – a lawyer, but since having the children she has stayed home. Initially she adored the opportunity, eventually, she felt stifled by the monotony of motherhood and yearned for more fulfilling work. She gets an opportunity to become the lawyer she trained to be and despite a less than supportive husband, Paul, they begin the search for the perfect nanny.
They have specific needs for a nanny. Myriam doesn’t want anyone of North-African decent because, as Morrocan-born, she doesn’t want them to be too familiar. Paul doesn’t want “illegal[s],…not too old, no veils, and no smokers.” So, when pretty, white, doll-like, Louise arrived they felt elated. Plus, as time went on she seemed perfect. She went above and beyond caring for the children. She cleaned and cooked elaborate meals. She even hosted birthday parties for the children.
The rest of the story is the unfolding of Louise’s backstory and how she insinuates herself into the Massé home and becomes seemingly indispensable. There is never a moment of snapping. There is never a clear-cut answer. But, people rarely have one thing that leads them to the decisions they make. You simply see all of the things that have created the character of Nanny Louise and all the stresses that go on in her life away from the Massé family. This may be one of the weakest aspects as of the novel because even though you are exposed to Louise she never seems exceedingly anything. Angry? Crazy? I don’t know. I’m fine with an open-ended story but usually, there is more insight the reader would glean and more certain assumptions to be made. That never really happened with Louise.
It is a fairly short novel. But everything is quite rounded out. Not knowing how the ending would be dealt with I did dawdle on this novel, though it could be finished in one sitting. The writing is unapologetic the children are depicted as very real, the conflicting emotions of motherhood are laid bare.
Overall a very good telling of a tragedy, though the reader who likes a tidy package will be disappointed. But, those who closely identify with the characters will be drawn to this story and thankfully it doesn’t demonize the working mom. Nor does it make out life at home as a walk in the park. There is something for everyone and it is well told.
5 Facts about “The Perfect Nanny” and the Crime it was Based On
The novel is based on actual events. While many will walk away from a book based on such a gruesome reality feeling it would be vulgar to profit off such a horrible crime the crime was the muse, much in the same manner that Law & Order is “ripped from the headlines.” The novel is a work of fiction.
- The original crime occurred in 2012 in New York City. The novel is set in Paris, France.
- Unlike the novel, in reality, the nanny survived her suicide attempt. The trial is only just beginning (02/2018).
- The Krim family had three children at the time of the crime. Fortunately, one was out of the house with her mother. Since the tragedy, the Krim family was blessed with two more children.
- Like Louise, the motives of the New York nanny, Yoselyn Ortega, have always been unclear.
- The Krim family has established the Lulu & Leo Fund, an organization that “works with schools and community organizations…to bring the Choose Creativity curriculum to children and families in often underserved communities. By completing challenges around each of the [10 principles of creativity], children and families develop critical creative skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives and inspire them to take positive action to affect their world.”
When you are done reading this novel check out our other books that made the