Marie’s Reading: “The Perfect Nanny” by Leila Slimani

perfect nannyThis French thriller is a slim, quick read, but it packs an emotional punch.  The story is about a nanny named Louise, hired by a French couple to care for their two children.  Over time, and via flashback, it becomes clear that Louise is not as wonderful a find as her employers supposed.

This novel is quite understated and character-focused.  Readers who are tired of rote police procedurals and lots of heinous crime will likely find the style and tone refreshing.  The reader is also aware from the first page of both the crime and who did it, and the narrative does not focus on an investigation nor the gory details.  Instead, we get a glimpse into this family and into Louise’s life, and can intuit the reasons behind the tragedy that opens the book.  The story is compelling and unsettling, with lots of dark corners.

The Perfect Nanny has less to do with a crime and investigation than it does with motherhood and with caregiving, and how oppressive those roles can be even as they bring a lot of joy.  Slimani also examines the tensions of class.  Readers who enjoy intensely focused, character-centered novels should give this one a look!  I’d also suggest it to readers who enjoy old-school domestic thrillers.

–Marie

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“Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives : Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense” Edited by Sarah Weinman

We’ve been getting much too scary lately.   Yeesh, there’s a Horror Month twist ending for you–turns out Horror fan Marie has been a wimp all along.

Shown: Marie, October 2014

Shown: Marie, October 2014

Let’s dial back the Horror as we ease into Halloween proper, and pump up some classic dark Domestic Suspense.

Troubled Daughters

This wonderful collection contains dark stories by the likes of Shirley Jackson and Patricia Highsmith.  They’re the big names, so it was nice to get to know the work of other writers of short domestic suspense.  If you’ve burned out on Horror this month right along with me, Domestic Suspense is a good way to soothe yourself while still remaining dark just before Halloween.

What is Domestic Suspense, you ask?  Let’s go to the expert–editor of this collection, Sarah Weinman!  In her view, this subgenre can be described as:

To my mind, it’s a genre of books published between World War II and the height of the Cold War, written by women primarily about the concerns and fears of women of the day. These novels and stories operate on the ground level, peer into marriages whose hairline fractures will crack wide open, turn ordinary household chores into potential for terror, and transform fears about motherhood into horrifying reality. They deal with class and race, sexism and economic disparity, but they have little need to show off that breadth.

That seems pretty accurate to me.  I’d also add that these stories have a few hallmarks of Suspense and Dark Fiction, and even a touch of Horror–a sense of unease, of waiting danger, unreliable narrators, mounting tension, and a not-always-neat ending.  The Domestic part comes, as Weinman notes, from the tight focus on interior and domestic life.  It’s the seedy underbelly of straight-up Domestic Fiction.

Each of these tales is a gem, sure to entertain and wrong-foot you.  They’re short and well-paced, so it’s a great book for dipping into a bit at a time.  That’s assuming, of course, that you’re able to put it down at all.