What are the major themes of The Perfect Nanny by Leïla Slimani?

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The Perfect Nanny by Leïla Slimani is a suspenseful novel that explores common parenting fears by focusing on a shocking fictional crime. From the book's opening, it is clear that the seemingly perfect nanny character, Louise, has killed one of the children in her charge and that the other child...

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The Perfect Nanny by Leïla Slimani is a suspenseful novel that explores common parenting fears by focusing on a shocking fictional crime. From the book's opening, it is clear that the seemingly perfect nanny character, Louise, has killed one of the children in her charge and that the other child may not survive either. While this novel explores many interesting ideas, in this response I will focus on outlining just a few of its key themes.

The commodification of human relationships plays an important role in The Perfect Nanny. The destructive influence of this commodification can be seen in the dynamic between the nanny, Louise, and her employers, Myriam and Paul. When they hire Louise, Myriam and Paul are initially delighted. Louise is described as a "little doll" and a miracle worker due to how she eases their parenting burden. The reference to Louise as a doll implies that Myriam and Paul see her as a kind of commodity, as opposed to a complex human being. While they are thrilled with Louise's extreme attentiveness, as this seems on the surface to be a sign of an employee possessing machine-like zeal and dedication, they don't fully consider what darkness might be driving Louise's obsessiveness.

The Perfect Nanny also explores the social pressures around good parenting and the harsh judgments parents face when they don't live up to expectations. Mothers in particular are often subject to severe judgment and social stigma when they fail in their position as caregivers. Slimani herself noted this form of gender discrimination in an interview with The Cut, commenting on how the story of real-life nanny Louise Woodward (who went on trial for the involuntary manslaughter of an infant in her care) influenced the novel:

I remember when the trial began, the lawyer of Louise said to the mother, if you didn't want something to happen to your child, you should have stayed home. For me, it's so cruel and so violent and so disgusting to say something like this to a mother. That's why I decided to call her Louise: I wanted the reader to remember that it's always the mother who is guilty.

Slimani depicts Paul and Myriam as extremely cautious and protective. They don't entrust their children to the care of a nanny without carefully considering this decision first. In general, they go out of their way to protect their offspring from various dangers. But these persistent attempts to maintain control ultimately fail.

In The Perfect Nanny, parenting is presented as an inherently vulnerable task; there is always the chance that a child will suffer harm, no matter how hard their guardian might try to protect them. This simple, painful truth underpins much of the novel's horror.

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