Leila Slimani’s The Perfect Nanny is an odd little book; at first seeming superficial and sparse, with time, the story – and in fact the storytelling itself – burrows into the mind of the reader, haunting and horrifying in equal measures.
Leila Slimani wastes no time in weaving her spell, shocking the reader with the very first line of the novel: “The baby is dead.” At this stage, the reader has no idea what the story is, but it is immediately clear that it won’t be an easy journey. Distilled to its most basic level, The Perfect Nanny is the story of Myriam and Paul – a happy, professional couple living in Paris, and Louise – the nanny they hire to care for their two young children. Woven into this generic plot are elements as diverse as maternal instinct, psychological trauma, ethnic and racial bias, the class system, trust, jealousy, and eventually crime.
The writing style employed in The Perfect Nanny may at first be off-putting for some readers. Slimani’s prose spills out on the page almost in a stream-of-consciousness way with more focus on exposition than dialog. It is unclear if this is the author’s typical style or an intentional choice made for this particular story; but in either case, the reader adjusts to it very quickly. The plot is laid out with deliberate simplicity – almost as one might imagine a confessional exchange to unfold.
This authorial approach makes it difficult to discuss the plot any further without straying into spoiler territory. What I can say is that I cannot think of a more insidious motive for murder than that which is exposed in The Perfect Nanny. It is not even that it is so completely original that readers have not encountered similar ideas before, but rather the way Slimani matter-of-factly exposes it that simply elicits an unsettling response within the reader’s mind.
Clocking in at just over 200 pages, The Perfect Nanny is a book that takes almost no time to consume, but one that warrants and rewards deep contemplation after completion. I suspect it will be a polarizing novel. After all, this is a very sensitive subject matter on which people have very personal and ingrained opinions. At the very least, I can’t imagine any reader not appreciating it enough to at the very least look forward to Leila Slimani’s next book. However, for those willing to surrender to her spell, the novel’s depth and subtle complexity will linger for years to come.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.