"The baby is dead. It took only a few seconds. The doctor said he didn’t suffer."
So begins Leila Slimani's fascinating examination of the relationship between mother and nanny, one in which guilt, reliance, manipulation and hidden mental illness abound. Myriam, the French-Moroccan mother (who resembles in many ways the author of this story), is overwhelmed with the care of her two small children and longs for her old work as a lawyer.
Together with her husband, the decision is made to hire a nanny. Of course, the couple has stipulations — not too old, not too young, preferably no children of their own to bother with, nobody overtly religious, foreign or generally off-beat.
They are overjoyed when Louise walks in: a quiet, middle-aged, lifelong caretaker with no family to speak of. In short order, Louise assumes control of the children, then the house, and then, almost without notice, she burrows herself deeply into the family's daily life like a tick in exposed skin.
Slimani's narration is unflinching and bare, yet I found myself fascinated by her dissection of Louise and the power dynamic between nanny and parent. There is a particular scene involving a chicken carcass that sent a shiver down my back.
In some ways, reading this book is like watching a car crash happen in slow motion — every second you are aware that something terrible is just over the horizon, and you are equal parts horrified and unable to look away. “The Perfect Nanny” won the Prix Goncourt, France's highest literary award, in 2016.