Ah yes, here we are with another domestic thriller. There seems to be a rash of books about naughty-nannies lately, yet this trend keeps going strong because it’s ripe for creativity. The figure of the nanny is an easy one to exploit in fiction because it’s essentially a stranger who enters the heart of a family, given an enormous amount of trust, and in many cases lives right in the home alongside everyone else; what could possibly go wrong?
Gilly Macmillan’s The Nanny is told from various perspectives; Jo, the young mother forced to move back in with her cold and aristocratic mother, Virginia, mother to Jo and hiding a whopping secret (or two) of her own, Hannah, the nanny who has returned to Jo’s childhood home decades after her disappearance, and Detective Andy Wilton, thrust into the middle of this complicated family web after a skull is discovered in Virginia’s lake and he is sent to investigate. Jo has always had a complicated relationship with her distant and secretive mother. As a child, when Jo’s beloved nanny Hannah leaves without a trace, Virginia tells Jo it’s because Hannah couldn’t put up with Jo’s awful behavior any longer. As it turns out, this lie is meant to cover up a rash of secrets that have come before it, but as the reader slowly puts the pieces of the puzzle together, the real question becomes: who is protecting who?
None of the characters profiled are particularly likable, perhaps the only person who deserves any real sympathy in this book is Jo’s 10-year-old daughter Ruby who has just lost her father to a car accident, which is why Ruby and Jo have traveled back to the UK to live with Virginia in her mansion. Jo’s father (Virginia’s husband) has also recently passed away, so it’s the widows who are left to keep the legacy going, struggling to maintain what both men have so clearly mucked up while they were alive. Women are portrayed as the mentally and emotionally stronger of the two sexes in this book, which suits the ‘domestic’ atmosphere of the mystery. Their economic precariousness is what binds Jo and her mother Virginia, yet they view the world through such different lenses that they grate against each other, ripe for exploitation.
Class differences are another theme that is touched upon, but I’ll confess I was hoping for a deeper exploration than what’s on offer here. Jo is uncomfortable with her parents’ status, while Virginia is desperate to maintain it. Hannah relishes her proximity to the wealthy, fantasizing about what is would be like if she were the ‘woman of the house’ like Virginia. Despite these infatuations, money is not the motivation behind all the dark deeds committed in this book, although it certainly accounts for some.
For those thriller readers who don’t like an unbelievable twist, you can be rest assured that you won’t find any here, everything that happens is believable, if not a bit predictable, but I think Macmillan’s intention was to explore, rather than surprise. When a bunch of women are thrown together in a big drafty house, all acting on different levels of privilege, jealousy is bound to arise as each person vies for power of one another. The pesky matter of a surfacing corpse and subsequent police investigation pale in comparison to the emotional war being fought within the family circle.
Even though I expected the resolution, getting there was still fun, and the 380 pages turned quickly as I bounced back and forth between perspectives. Macmillan knows just what to do to keep us reading, and although she doesn’t make any groundbreaking changes to the genre, it’s a worthwhile addition to it nonetheless.
Since I’m not a huge fan of the “twist”, this sounds quite appealing to me – I much prefer the idea of exploring the various relationships. Nannies seem such an odd concept – there weren’t too many of them in the Glasgow housing scheme where I grew up… 😉
haha it’s strange actually, I think the idea of “nannies’ are making a come back, simply because its more common for both parents to be working now.
I like the idea of this book being so female-centered. I am feeling the need for a good thriller, it’s been a while since I read one.
Gilly Macmillan is a good bet!
Sounds interesting…I don’t have too much trouble understanding how and why thrillers capitalize on the idea of the nanny. Even though I love and trust everyone I leave my children with, I get that there is a natural fear there too. And interesting to draw out the privilege/social standing that often goes along with having a nanny.
absolutely!!! Anxiety is a wonderful place to base thrillers haha
And parenthood is full of it!
Oh, Anne! You keep reading these nanny thrillers and you’ll never trust another babysitter again!
I knowwwwww it’s probably a dangerous territory I’m wading into LOL
Sometimes it’s comforting to see a tried-and-true idea skillfully put to work once again. I think I would likely rather that, when it’s executed well, than have someone try to surprise me and end up annoying me by stretching credibility too far.
I know what you mean! I read these books because I enjoy them 😉
It’s such a wicked mix and did keep me trying to figure out who was who. Felt the little girl was neglected by both Nanny and mummy but not by the nasty granny.