Perfect Nanny (Slimani)

The Perfect Nanny 
Leila Slimani, 2016 (U.S. transl., 2018)
Penguin Publishing
240 pp.

Winner - 2017, Prix Goncourt (France)

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
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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Rabat, Morocco
Education—Ecole superieure de commerce de Paris-Europe
Awards—Prix Goncourt (France); La Mamounia (Moroccan)
Currently—lives in Paris, France

Leïla Slimani is a Franco-Moroccan writer and journalist, who was awarded the 2016 Prix Goncourt for her novel Chanson douce. The novel was published in 2018 in the U.S. as The Perfect Nanny.

Life and work
Slimani was born in Rabat, Morocco, and left at the age of 17 for Paris to study political science and media studies at the Sciences Po and Ecole superieure de commerce de Paris-Europe (ESCP). After her graduation she began to work as a journalist for the magazine Jeune Afrique.

Slimani's first novel, Dans le jardin de l’ogre ("In the Garden of the Ogre"), published in 2014, won the Moroccan La Mamounia literary award. Two years later, Chanson douce was released, becoming a bestseller even before it was awarded the Prix Goncourt. That novel made Slimina the most-read author in France in 2016.

Slimani holds French and Moroccan citizenships. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 1/31/2018.)

Book Reviews
[An] unnerving cautionary tale.… Pretty radical for a domestic thriller, but what’s more remarkable about this unconventional novel is the author’s intimate analysis of the special relationship between a mother and a nanny.… Slimani writes devastatingly perceptive character studies.
Marilyn Stasio - New York Times Book Review

Brilliantly observed.… Slimani is brilliantly insightful about the peculiar station nannies assume within the households of working families.
Wall Street Journal

A slim page-turner, The Perfect Nanny can be read in a single, shivery sitting.… A chilling domestic thriller.… It will make a great film.

This brutal chiller has the same compulsive readability as Emma Donoghue’s Room.

A year ago, I picked up a book … that I’ve thought about pretty much every day since.… [It] felt less like an entertainment, or even a work of art, than like a compulsion. I found it extraordinary.… If you are a mother, whatever kind of mother you aspire to be, you’ll know what kind of mother you are after reading Slimani. If you are not a mother, the insights that she administers can be no less jolting.… Like Jenny Offill, Slimani can write ravishingly of female bodies, even postpartum ones.… The novelist Rachel Cusk has chronicled what motherhood did to her; Slimani examines what mothering is doing to society.
Lauren Collins - New Yorker

I think this might be one of the most important books of the year. You can’t unread it.… If you’ve ever taken care of a kid, even if, just on a bus, someone has handed you a child for five seconds as they rummage through their purse, this will do something to you.… At the end of reading this book, I was so devastated, but I really felt like I was looking at the world through new eyes.
Barrie Hardymon - NPR’s Weekend Edition

[A] slim dagger of a novel.… You won't move until you reach the last page.

[An] unsettling tale of a nanny who insinuates herself into every aspect of her employers’ lives, with tragic results.… Those seeking a thought-provoking character study will appreciate this gripping anatomy of a crime.
Publishers Weekly

[A] spare domestic thriller.… 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.
Library Journal

A devastating, entrancing, literary psychological drama supported by absorbing character studies.… Readers won’t be able to look away.

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.… [But] the why…remains unfathomable, rendering it all the more frightening.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for The Perfect Nanny … then take off on your own:

1. Do you see this this novel as a guilt trip for working moms—inspiring a sense of maternal inadequacy?

2. What do you think of Myriam and her husband Paul? In what way would you call them needy?

3. Why doesn't Myriam, who is Moroccan-French, want to hire a North African nanny? She admits that she would worry about "immigrant solidarity." What does she mean?

4. Myriam tells friends, "My nanny is a miracle worker." What does that statement suggest a) about Myriam and … b) about her relation with Louise?

5. What do you think of the fact that when Myriam goes shopping "she hides the new clothes in an old cloth bag and only opens them once Louise has gone." Paul praises her for being "tactful." What is your take on Myriam's tactfulness?

6. How are mothers in general portrayed in this novel? Consider the description of mothers sitting on park benches "starring into space" or the mother who has just given birth and who still carries around "her body of pain and secretions.… This flesh that she drags around with her, which she gives no care or rest."

7. Follow-up to Question 6: If you are a mother, do the narrator's depictions of motherhood resonate with you—the desire to continue a career outside the home, the feeling of guilt … or perhaps the opposite: the feeling that you shouldn't stay at home, that you should pursue a career?

8. How do you feel about Louise (absent the fact that we know she has a murdered two children)? What do we learn about her background: why she's so obsessive, for instance, about her own mothering skills?
9. Follow-up to Question 8: Talk about this observation of Louise by Myriam: I had the feeling that she was like a plate that you put every day on the table, and she breaks every day a little bit. And one day you put it on the table and she breaks into pieces." What does Myriam mean? Is it a fair assessment of Louise?

10. Talk about the first sentence of the novel, even the first paragraph. How did it make you feel as you read it?

11. How would you describe the narrative voice in The Perfect Nanny? In what way does it contribute to a sense of dread...or horror?

12. Does knowing that this novel is based on a real case of child murder by a nanny (in New York City) affect your reading experience?

13. This isn't a whodunnit. It's a whydunnit. Why does Louise murder the children? Is her motivation ever fully explained?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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