Okay. Leila Slimani’s The Perfect Nanny has an opening. The first sentence is, quite truly, “The baby is dead”. Bam. Slimani said, “are you not entertained?!”.
A reviewer on the back cover (it was The Telegraph (UK), but I like the diminution of calling an entire publication a back cover reviewer) called it, “The ‘French Gone Girl'”. This actually tells you nothing, and frankly misleads your whole experience. Does it open with a shocking murder? Yes. Does it grip you with violence enacted by women? Naturally. Beyond involving humans–mostly women–and being a bit of a thriller, it has little in common with Gone Girl.
And frankly, when did the We At Large decide every single vaguely thrilling novel about women was Gone Girl? Why is that the benchmark for literally any piece of fiction written by a woman about a woman who possibly even remotely dips her toe into violence? Do we have no other works of female violence? I, personally, cannot think of many novels like it, so perhaps it’s merited but it confuses me because the novels I see compared to Gone Girl bear a passing resemblance at best, if you squint, in the dark, while having a migraine. It’s kin to comparing Huckleberry Finn and Moby Dick, tHeY aRe SaMe because they both involve watercrafts and a white protagonist??? This is not a good comparison, I’m ranting because I felt misled.
So, The Perfect Nanny. Fantastic.
I had a great time reading it. So much so that I read it in four hours. It is a little under 250 pages, the translation is excellent (it is originally a French novel, and interestingly made Slimani the first Moroccan woman to win the Goncourt! Hey ooo!), the pace makes you never want to put it down, and the opening! I kept thinking it would explain the opening. Would they explain it in more grotesque detail? Would they reenact it, and from whose perspective? As I turned the pages, expecting something like those questions, I noticed I was running out of pages and missing expectations. In a good way.
I can’t say I loved the ending. It’s a great ending, but surprised me in a way, the sudden shift to a character we hardly knew up until then. And yet, now that I’m thinking about it, I want to reread it to see if perhaps it was the best choice. I mean who am I, Slimani won the Goncourt for godssakes shut up Mia.
Reading it as an American felt occasionally like there were references I was missing, a deeper part of the Perfect Nanny pool I couldn’t swim in. It slides in nicely with this, our first year after Parasite. It also put me in mind of Dolores Umbridge, a sort of prim pink poof of a person that happens to be hideously evil. The novel explores motherhood, the expectations on women, as well as race and class, with such a rapid, tense pace. It plays at mental illness, societal pressure, abusive relationships, and obsession.
Maybe it is worth a reread. I never reread anything. I could count the books I read twice on one hand (Harriet the Spy and The Goddamn Great Gastby being among them).
I didn’t pull quotes. I read it too quickly. I would recommend it. You come out the other side wondering, still, why the murders happened. When exactly was the breaking point? As the reader, I felt myself slide across a spectrum of disgust, understanding, and pity for the main character. The sympathy I felt was both disconcerting and reasonable, depending on the chapter.
A good read. I got it from my Recycled Books grab bag, so bravo, Recycled Books! A solid choice.