Victor Dwyer on why The Mother Zone is a must-read if you liked The Perfect Nanny
A couple of years ago, Leïla Slimani's Chanson Douce was the most widely read book in France and now its English translation, The Perfect Nanny, is poised to unsettle readers in North America. In the book, the nanny murders the children, but from this horrifying premise the book builds as a perceptive meditation on motherhood and its current place in the culture.
The Perfect Nanny
"The book opens with this amazing, powerful hard-hitting first paragraph in which the children are murdered. You almost want to choose to read that paragraph, but it opens with that very dark filter. I thought that if you didn't have that first paragraph, it would be more of a meditation on mothering, the outsourcing of mothering and the dynamics of the family. With that opening paragraph, it becomes this intense psychological thriller. It's very effective.
"It's a psychological deep dive into this crazy person, but it's also a book that plays on the Zeitgeist of our era, the grievance politics that you see in supporters of Donald Trump or you see in France, where this takes place among people who feel left behind. It's also an interesting rumination on gender imbalance on how it's women, not men, who take everything on, usually, even if there is some kind of lip service to that not happening. There are all these different psychological, sociological overlaid with outright horror story elements going on. It ramps things up so effectively, but in a day-to-day kind of way.
"It's perceptive and yet I can't quite put my finger on it. It reminds you of how society is so tense in so many ways these days with all kinds of built-in inequities, grievances, poverty and all the things we're balancing."
The Mother Zone
"Most women are so busy raising children. And collectively, we've decided that we're going to undervalue this stuff and not give proper daycare. She writes a very blunt, very funny book. She loves her child. But it's also a real blow by blow into the daily-ness of mothering from childbirth on. She says motherhood is like Albania — you can't trust the brochures, you have to go there. So she takes us there."
"There's so much humour in the book, so many insights and so many wonderful loving things, just about the all embracing-ness of motherhood. But it's also a rueful look at what mothers have to go through and what it's like to be a mother in a society that worships motherhood and tells mothers to shut up if they don't want to get in on this worship stuff and want to complain. Yet, at the same time a society that undervalues, devalues and dismisses the hard work of child rearing. Written back in 1992, you really get this feeling that it's way ahead of its time."
Victor Dwyer's comments have been edited and condensed.