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My review of The Nanny Diaries

by Nicola Pearce

My review of The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus – a must read for any present and potential au pairs!

This book does for au pairs and nannies what The Devil Wears Prada did for fashion interns – it might be fiction, but you can tell it’s rooted in fact and experience. However it’s important to start out by saying, if you are going to be an au pair, it’s OK, your host family and kids are going to be nothing like this!

The book has been around for ages and was made into a really bad film starring Scarlett Johansson about seven years ago – but it’s funny, insightful, set in Manhattan and a really good read. You’ll recognise lots of things that happen between the nanny and the little boy she looks after as real and familiar. I didn’t realise how old it was when I first picked it up (it was written in 2002), but the first few pages really date it, you start to wonder why people don’t text each other but leave hand written notes all over the place. The nanny gets really excited when she’s given a mobile phone by her employer and calls everyone to tell them. So it’s a bit old fashioned here and there, but that’s no bad thing, it makes it quite quaint and of a slightly different era whilst being recognisable and fresh.

It’s a great look at the world of the miserable super-rich, and you will definitely find yourself hating Mrs X for her supercilious little notes and coldness towards her own child, but you’ll feel sorry for her too. The little boy is written with real tenderness, he tests out Nanny when they first meet and she shows her childcare skills by pulling him into line gently and firmly, and then getting locked out of the apartment, with him inside. The story is funny, heart-warming and really painful by turns. You can see why it was made into a film, the Manhattan backdrop, the huge, sumptuous apartment, the designer details… it’s really visual. It’s a great book to read before you go to NYC, you’ll have an image in your head of the sky-scrapers, the parks and avenues and the shopping opportunities!

I loved the scene early on when Nanny has to buy ridiculous party favours for her employer’s party (a party for the adults, not the kids) but doesn’t know how many people are coming and has to guess. She also has lavender water on the list but doesn’t know what it is (who does?) and buys twelve bottles not realising it wasn’t meant as a party favour but is a posh cleaning product (you use it when ironing linen, so now you know… you’re welcome). I feel it’s important to say here that our au pairs are not expected to spend their time running around town on errands for their host families, they are there to look after children, but there you go, Nanny wasn’t a Gap 360 Au Pair.

Nanny is a student at university, skint and struggling to pay the rent. She opts to be a nanny for super-rich New-Yorkers as she loves kids and it has to be said, is really good at looking after them. She’s warm and good fun unlike the parents: Mr X, the dad is never around and the mum (that’s right, Mrs X) doesn’t work, but is too busy to look after her only child, and of course, there’s the spoilt brat with the silly name, Grayer. (Apologies to anyone called Grayer, I am sure you are lovely and it really suits you, but come on…). The continual demands of the socialite mother are often cringe-worthy and if you have ever looked after someone else’s children, especially in New York, you might well recognise or even know this woman. She is Miss Manhattan with her Prada shoes and Gucci handbag and her long list of unreasonable demands for her nanny/servant. I’m sure Dickens was writing about exactly the same situation in Victorian Britain a few hundred years ago – so there you go, you can argue you are reading classic literature with meaty, erudite themes (class consciousness and inequality, capitalism, human suffering…) whilst digesting what is essentially chic lit.

On top of this, Nanny finds herself in utterly hilarious situations, including being dressed up as a Teletubby by the ego-inflated mother for Halloween. Add to this, a father who is having an affair and a handsome man from upstairs to distract Nanny and you will not be able to put this book down. Chic lit it maybe, but funny, well-written chic lit and after you’ve been to NYC on orientation, you’ll imagine yourself in the starring role. Move over Scarlett Johansen. It’ll make you snort with laughter… just to stress, in case you missed the opening line, your host family are going to be nothing like the X family in the book.

I laughed and smiled my way through the book. Kraus and McLaughlin have captured life as a Manhattan nanny really well. There’s definitely space now for a sequel or a modern version where people don’t go nuts about a new mobile phone and let the world know that some things will never change: there will always be people ready to pay other people to look after their children and that’s definitely a good thing for our wannabe au pairs.

If you think it doesn’t accurately reflect the life of an au pair (of course it doesn’t, I feel the need to keep stressing that) – why not start your own blog of your experiences – as long as you keep things anonymous and change the names and disguise the places to protect the innocent, you’ll be OK!

Available on Amazon for 1p plus postage, order your copy to read on the plane.

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