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The Perfect Nanny
Cover of The Perfect Nanny
The Perfect Nanny
A Novel
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.
One of the 10 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR of The New York Times Book Review, by the author of Adèle, Sex and Lies, and In the Country of Others
“A great novel . . . Incredibly engaging and disturbing . . . Slimani has us in her thrall.” —Roxane Gay, New York Times bestselling author of Bad Feminist and Hunger
“One of the most important books of the year. You can’t unread it.” —Barrie Hardymon, NPR’s Weekend Edition


When Myriam decides to return to work as a lawyer after having children, she and her husband look for the perfect nanny for their son and daughter. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite, devoted woman who sings to the children, cleans the family’s chic Paris apartment, 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, motherhood, and madness—and the American debut of an immensely talented writer.
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.
One of the 10 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR of The New York Times Book Review, by the author of Adèle, Sex and Lies, and In the Country of Others
“A great novel . . . Incredibly engaging and disturbing . . . Slimani has us in her thrall.” —Roxane Gay, New York Times bestselling author of Bad Feminist and Hunger
“One of the most important books of the year. You can’t unread it.” —Barrie Hardymon, NPR’s Weekend Edition


When Myriam decides to return to work as a lawyer after having children, she and her husband look for the perfect nanny for their son and daughter. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite, devoted woman who sings to the children, cleans the family’s chic Paris apartment, 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, motherhood, and madness—and the American debut of an immensely talented writer.
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  • From the book “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...
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    October 15, 2017
    This novel about a murderous nanny, Moroccan author Slimani's first to be published in the U.S., was awarded the 2016 Priz Goncourt. Inspired by a 2012 case involving an Upper West Side nanny accused of killing two children in her charge, Slimani's novel moves the story to a similarly upscale locale, the tenth arrondissement of Paris. Since the book opens with the murders, leaving no doubt as to the culprit, the reader quickly gathers that the inquiry here is not who did it but why. A narrative that is chiefly flashback attempts to reverse-engineer an explanation. Louise, a middle-aged widow with an estranged adult daughter, is hired by a professional couple to look after their young children, Mila and Adam. The father, Paul, is a rising music producer, and the mother, Myriam, an attorney who's just taken a demanding position at a law firm. Myriam and Paul are pleasantly surprised by Louise's spectacular suitability for her job: not only does she quickly win over the children with her creative games and sense of play, but she goes above and beyond a nanny's role, becoming a housekeeper and general factotum. Never has the apartment looked so clean, never have meals been so appetizing and nourishing. Her employers take Louise along on their summer vacation to Greece, where she begins to see possibilities beyond her constricted life. However, the idyll is threatened on all sides when the pathology underlying Louise's perfectionism begins to emerge. The near-omniscient point of view darts in and out of the consciousness of many characters, some quite marginal. Consequently, the depiction of internal pressures building to a homicidal pitch is fragmentary at best. Ultimately, the evidence against Louise, whether of compulsive behavior, mental illness, bad luck, or just extreme loneliness, does not add up to a motive for infanticide. The prose, despite Taylor's often slapdash translation, manages to convey an atmosphere of creeping dread reminiscent of Modiano, but with more lurid details. The why of this horrific crime remains unfathomable, rendering it all the more frightening.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    October 30, 2017
    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.

  • Library Journal

    December 1, 2017

    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 Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    November 15, 2017
    Winner of France's prestigious Prix Goncourt, Moroccan French author Slimani's first book to be published in the U.S is a devastating, entrancing, literary psychological drama supported by absorbing character studies. Readers first step into a veritable crime scene: a baby and his toddler sister are dead, or soon to be, in an apartment in Paris' tenth arrondissement. Their blissfully unaware mother, Myriam, meanwhile leaves work early, for a change, to surprise them. Then Slimani takes us back to the true beginning, to learn how happy Myriam was to escape the monotony of stay-at-home parenting after the birth of her second child and how impressed she and her husband, Paul, were by the nanny, Louise, who arrives highly recommended and whom the children immediately adore. Slimani's skills are many, and her novel is fabulously translated by Taylor. Myriam and Paul's constant nagging fears for their children are mundane, relatable, and gut-wrenching, given the end readers already know. As Louise's dark past, emotional stuntedness, and heinous volatility emerge through cracks in her meticulous, porcelain exterior, readers won't be able to look away.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2017, American Library Association.)

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The Perfect Nanny
A Novel
Leila Slimani
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