MyFrenchLife™ French Book Club PROGRESS UPDATE – Leïla Slimani, Chanson Douce – The Perfect Nanny

MyFrenchLife™ – – Book Club - The Perfect Nanny - Recently translated French fiction - Leila Slimani - The Perfect Nanny

Chers et chères ami(e)s,

This summary update is designed for all those who are reading The Perfect Nanny with us, and those who are seeking a quick catch-up…

  • Currently, there are 25 members who have participated in the Facebook discussions and announced they have read or are reading the first book: ‘The Perfect Nanny’ by Leïla Slimani.
  • Plus, 3 members who have joined directly from the MyFrenchLife™ site.
  • And the Goodreads group comprises 19 subscribers.

A grand total of 47 reading members – bravo!

Buy your copy in English here et en français ici.

Since we’re halfway through the planned reading period (15 February–30 March), here is a recap of our book club activity, including the questions and comments which have been shared so far.

What’s happened so far?

  • First of all, the launch of our ‘recently-translated prize-winning French novels’ book club project appeared on on 31 January 2018.
  • Next, ‘A brainstorm before reading was submitted, along with questions in a Google form:

We all have preconceived ideas on subjects that matter. When this subject concerns the very people who played a major part in the first years of our life, or of the lives of our children, we all have emotional stories and experiences to share.

This is why, before reading, I suggested that we pause momentarily on two quotes from the epigraph of The Perfect Nanny, and in particular, on a sentence in the quote by Kipling that drew my attention and provoked a chain reaction of memories – memories of nannies attached to personal, public, or fictional stories:

… it never struck her that Miss Vizzis had her own life to lead …

Assuming you also have your own testimonies on this topic, I’d like you to share them before reading.

Pre-reading questions

1. Have you had a bad experience with a nanny or have you employed a nanny?

Nobody has had a bad experience with a nanny.

2. Do you have in mind any titles of films/series/documentaries/works of fiction with a nanny in the major role?

Works of fiction with a nanny as the main character:

  • Mary Poppins
  • Mrs. Doubtfire
  • The Nanny Diaries
  • The Hand that Rocks the Cradle
  • The Help
  • Finding Vivian Maier

3. Do you recollect any nanny-related scandals that have made the headlines in the last decades? (example: the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby in the ’30s)

Scandals involving nannies:

  • Famous actors cheating with the nanny of their children
  • A French au pair recently murdered in London
  • Parents placing videos in soft toys to spy on their nanny)   

4. Which title do you like most at first sight? the UK one (Lullaby) or the American one (The Perfect Nanny)?

Lullaby was overwhelmingly preferred

First chapter revelations

Do the narrator’s early revelations puncture the suspense, or do they act as an incentive to reading on?

Here are several excerpts from the answers submitted on our MyFrenchLife™ Facebook community page thread:

Katherine Hammond Gallé:
“I am almost halfway through the book. I like the writer’s strategy. They are an incentive to keep reading on. I keep looking for clues as to how and why his happened as I read each chapter.”

Lisa Norris:
“Well it’s a pretty awful way to start a book. But now I’m sucked in.”

Jacqueline Dubois:
“Indeed Katherine, we need to know why all this happened, what made an ordinary looking, apparently normal, nanny commit such an evil act. Therefore we become some sort of reader-detective. That’s it, I think this is the writer’s tour de force, the reader gets completely involved!”

Jacqueline Selken:
“I am reading on my kindle. I am 50% through – somewhat unsettling story since we know what is going to happen from the get-go.”

Alisa Landrum Bearov:
“You know the what but you have to read the book to learn the why. That is what the book is about. So many tragic flaws in the classical sense.”

Carolyne Lee:
“I’m reading this in French as it’s not difficult in terms of the language level. To answer your question, even though the ‘ending’ is revealed at the start, this doesn’t puncture the suspense for me but actually heightens it, as I want to know what could possibly have motivated such a horrible crime. I don’t think I could have read this in English.”

UK and US cover images

The cover images are the same, but not just the titles are different:

  • UK edition sells as Goncourt-winner; US doesn’t bother
  • US edition has a blurb, UK is blurbless.
  • UK edition goes diacritical with author name: Leïla (UK) / Leila (US)

How do you explain why the UK and US covers of The Perfect Nanny / Lullaby show up differently?

Here are several excerpts from the answers submitted on our MyFrenchLife™ Facebook community page thread:

Terry Cagle:
“I read the Faber and Faber edition (UK), which I bought in Paris at Galignani. The US and UK would each have had their own marketing team decide how to promote the book. The Prix Goncourt, as others have noted, is highly prestigious here but probably not so much so in the US. Btw, there is a blurb on the back cover (from a Daily Telegraph review) and a very short author blurb/bio just inside the book.”

Connie Barney:
“Cultural differences are real, and marketers have to take them into account in their promotional materials. The photos in Ikea catalogs – for the exact same product sold worldwide – are all tailored to the local market, too, if that’s any indication of how widespread the practice is.”

The working parents’ problem

Another topic also popped up in the Facebook string of discussions, as initiated by Alisa Bearov Landrum. Read her account below.

Alisa Bearov Landrum:
“I think it treats several critical social problems – the isolation of working parents, the struggles and conflicts of raising children while not wanting to lose oneself in the every day life of a small child or children (I chose to leave work to raise my sons, and it was a long and lonely business in a world where all my peers were at work all day), the wretched options that are available for working parents who want their children to have a loving home life, the fears and the willingness to overlook them because of the greater fear of losing one’s probably best option…

I found it to be both wrenching and utterly believable. That is part of its power – this could happen. It probably has happened.

And the subtlety of the language swept me in – the descriptions of the nanny’s personal life (not descriptions, really, just vignettes) presented almost clinically in their spareness were so jarring and ugly. How could this woman NOT be damaged?

And that was part of it, too – an indictment of and a chilling window into the world of these women who are willing to work for low wages and little appreciation (that is also part of the book) because they have no better options.

Parents don’t want to know. Society doesn’t want to know.”

Book club meeting in Paris

For members who live in Paris, a book club meeting is scheduled for 19 March at 10.30am, in the very neighborhood where Paul and Myriam live.

café de l’Eglise,
2, Place Franz Litstz,
75010 Paris

In conclusion, as we’re all ‘remote’ book club members, here’s where YOU CAN GET INVOLVED:

  • The MyFrenchLife™ Facebook community page and our Goodreads group seem to be more appropriate platforms for sharing thoughts and discussions live.
  • However, should you only be able to visit the MyFrenchLife™ site, you will also be able to participate in the comments section of the articles and updates posted simultaneously. Here is the Reading List article.
  • Also for readers who do not have access to our community page on Facebook – THIS FORM – will gather your comments and thoughts after reading.  Note that feedback will be given later on.


Happy reading to all! Bonne lecture!

Are you enjoying the book so far? What do you think of the member comments shared above? There is still time to read with us – Here’s where you can GET INVOLVED. Please share your thoughts and comments on the MyFrenchLife™ Facebook community page or in our Goodreads group.

Image credits:
1. The Perfect Nanny, via Amazon
2. Chanson Douce, via Amazon

About the Contributor

Jacqueline Dubois Pasquier

After teaching for 20 years abroad, I mostly live now in Paris, where I feel both like a native and an expat. I enjoy being part of My French Life™ as it makes my life in Paris even more meaningful and special. I have a passion for literature and movies. I share my thoughts in my blog and on twitter.”

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One Comment

  1. Richard Mullins Aug 14, 2021 at 8:51 PM - Reply

    The author said in an interview that she wanted to write a novel about a nanny but that the nanny’s work was boring and the suthor found it boring to write about. She said adding murder to the story made it come alive.
    (I am noti being fair to the author because I am recasting what she saidi in my own words. I listened to her youtube interview in French).

    I wondered in the original NY story if there was “mission creep”, ans was it much different from someone having a catastrophic ccident driving a car if they had too many things distracting from the task..

    The NY court case seemed to be to be a show trial, with the aim of convicting (rather than finding mental illness). Previous examples of an aim to convict, were the AManda Knox Italy, the Lindy Chamberlain trial in Australia in 1982, and the Flor Conttemplacion trial in singapore – she was hanged in 1995 for killing another nanny.

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