This 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.
Here’s a novel that actually lives up to the “next Gone Girl” hype: A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell. Twisted people doing twisted things to each other and a few people wind up dead. It’s like a disturbing soap opera. A few criticisms of the book I’ve read suggest that it might be a touch too twisted for some. The characters in particular. However, I thought it was a perfectly enjoyable thriller with a very nice open ending.
The basic plot is this: Stephanie, who runs a mom-blog, is left picking up the pieces after her best friend Emily simply disappears. But soon it becomes clear Emily’s disappearance is anything but simple. Alternating narrative voices between Stephanie, entries from Stephanie’s blog, Emily, and Emily’s husband Sean, we begin to realize that none of these people are entirely what they seem.
A Simple Favor has all the elements of Gone Girl (the dastardly plan, the bizarre marriage dynamic, the one character who is seriously nuts), but somehow it all plays out in a less threatening and disturbing way than that book did. Don’t get me wrong, this is a disturbing cat-and-mouse kind of thriller, and it’s got suitably disturbed characters, and it is certainly evocatively written with great idiosyncratic voices. Yet there’s something about these characters, and about the game they’re playing, that really feels like a soap. I say that just to give you an idea of the tone, not as a criticism (like I said, I enjoyed this very much!). Also, there’s more than a dash of VC Andrews in with the Patricia Highsmith. If you get my drift.
A Simple Favor does me the favor of offering up its own perfect readalikes in-text. If you enjoy this book, or Gone Girl, or books like it, definitely try Patricia Highsmith if you haven’t already. Strangers on a Train would be good. For a watch-alike, go classic with a Hitchcock movie.