Perfect Nanny
by Slimani, Leila

"When Myriam, a French-Moroccan lawyer, decides to return to work after having children, she and her husband look for the perfect nanny for their two young children. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite, devoted woman who sings to the children, cleans the family's chic apartment in Paris's upscale tenth arrondissement, 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, and motherhood-and the American debut of an immensely talented writer"-

Leila Slimani is the first Moroccan woman to win France’s most prestigious literary prize, the Goncourt, which she won for The Perfect Nanny. Her first novel, Adèle, won the La Mamounia Prize for the best book by a Moroccan author written in French. A journalist and frequent commentator on women’s and human rights, Slimani is French president Emmanuel Macron’s personal representative for the promotion of the French language and culture and was ranked #2 on Vanity Fair France’s annual list of The Fifty Most Influential French People in the World. Born in Rabat, Morocco, in 1981, she now lives in Paris with her French husband and their two young children.

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. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

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 M odiano, but with more lurid details. The why of this horrific crime remains unfathomable, rendering it all the more frightening. Copyright Kirkus 2017 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

“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 inviting friends again, and they are fed on blanquette de veau, pot-au-feu, ham hock with sage and delicious vegetables, all lovingly cooked by Louise. They congratulate Myriam, shower her with compliments, but she always admits: “My nanny did it all.”

When Mila is at school, Louise attaches Adam to her in a large wrap. She likes to feel the child’s chubby thighs against her belly, his saliva that runs down her neck when he falls asleep. She sings all day for this baby, praising him for his laziness. She massages him, taking pride in his folds of flesh, his round pink cheeks. In the mornings, the child welcomes her with gurgles, his plump arms reaching out for her. In the weeks that follow Louise’s arrival, Adam learns to walk. And this boy who used to cry every night sleeps peacefully until morning.

Mila is wilder. She is a small, fragile girl with the pos­ture of a ballerina. Louise ties her hair in buns so tight that the girl’s eyes look slanted, pulled toward her tem­ples. Like that, she resembles one of those medieval hero­ines with a broad forehead, a cold and noble expression. Mila is a difficult, exhausting child. Any time she becomes irritated, she screams. She throws herself to the ground in the middle of the street, stamps her feet, lets herself be dragged along to humiliate Louise. When the nanny crouches down and tries to speak to her, Mila turns away.

She counts out loud the butterflies on the wallpaper. She watches herself in the mirror when she cries. This child is obsessed by her own reflection. In the street, her eyes are riveted to shop windows. On several occasions she has bumped into lampposts or tripped over small obstacles on the sidewalk, distracted by the contemplation of her own image.

Mila is cunning. She knows that crowds stare, and that Louise feels ashamed in the street. The nanny gives in more quickly when they are in public. Louise has to take detours to avoid the toyshop on the avenue, where the lit­tle girl stands in front of the window and screams. On the way to school, Mila drags her feet. She steals a raspberry from a greengrocer’s stall. She climbs on to windowsills, hides in porches, and runs away as fast as her legs will carry her. Louise tries to go after her while pushing the stroller, yelling the girl’s name, but Mila doesn’t stop until she comes to the very end of the sidewalk. Sometimes Mila regrets her bad behavior. She worries about Louise’s paleness and the frights she gives her. She becomes loving again, cuddly. She makes it up to the nanny, clinging to her legs. She cries and wants to be mothered.

Slowly, Louise tames the child. Day after day, she tells her stories, where the same characters always recur. Or­phans, lost little girls, princesses kept as prisoners, and castles abandoned by terrible ogres. Strange beasts—birds with twisted beaks, one-legged bears and melancholic unicorns—populate Louise’s landscapes. The little girl falls silent. She stays close to the nanny, attentive, impatient. She asks for certain characters to come back. Where do these stories come from? They emanate from Louise, in a continual flood, without her even thinking about it, with­out her making the slightest effort of memory or imagina­tion. But in what black lake, in what deep forest has she found these cruel tales where the heroes die at the end, after first saving the world?

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