Having started this year as an au pair in Italy (I left after a month as the experience was so traumatic!), I was interested in reading 'The Nanny Diaries'; a chick lit novel which details a fictionalised account of life as a nanny, written by two former nannies themselves.
Not only did I want something to console myself with after my own nightmare "nannying" experience - longing to read a novel by two women who had experienced something similar - but I was drawn to this book as it seemed a bit different from the usual "boy meets girl" formula of chick lit.
As soon as I read the extremely entertaining prologue I knew straight away that I had made a good choice and, while the story didn't exactly have me gripped, the novel certainly kept me entertained to the end, and even made me realise that perhaps my experience wasn't so bad after all in comparison...
Twenty one year old Nan has scored the perfect part time job nannying for the sweet four year old Grayer in a gorgeous Manhattan apartment, working for a rich mother who gives away free Prada shoes! Great, right? Well... not exactly.
In reality, Nan's "part time" job is in fact taking over her life as her employer, Mrs X, has her rushing all over Manhattan running complicated and impossible errands, while at the same time taking on the role of almost full time parent, guardian and educator of her son.
Trying to juggle her job, college, thesis, job interviews, annoying flatmates, almost-boyfriend (the gorgeous "Harvard Hottie" who lives in the X's building) and ultimately the responsibility of holding the entire X family together, Nan has certainly got far more than she bargained for.
However, she soon finds that the drama is only just beginning as she unwittingly stumbles across a secret about the absent Mr X, and the prospect of divorce for the Xs rears its ugly head. Swept up in the crazy world of the Xs and trying to singlehandedly save their marriage via an underwear rescue mission, Nan is desperate to escape and start living her own life again, but there's just one problem: Grayer.
Torn between her hatred of the Xs and her love of their son, Nan wonders if she can really leave the neglected, unappreciated, loving Grayer alone with the Xs to fend for himself...
WHAT I LIKED
The main thing that I really liked about this book was the subtle, fairly sarcastic humour. I love how the authors appear to be having a laugh as they recall the ridiculous situations they experienced themselves and as they pour all their bad experiences and situations in to one farcical nightmare of a story for poor Nan.
Some parts are indeed really funny, particularly the prologue where the authors describe a typical interview process for a Nanny and the typical employer. The prologue is heavy in sarcasm and exaggeration and you get the feeling they are finally letting out all the criticisms they have ever kept to themselves over the years as they have sat through one crazy interview after the other.
I think that this humour is particularly effective as at times - in fact fairly often - the story is actually really sad and tragic. The authors are in fact telling a story of the true neglect of parents towards their children that they have witnessed on countless occasions -parents who think that as long as they are sending their kids to the top schools and providing them with all the best possessions they are doing their job to their utmost, parents who simply "forget" to love their children because they are just so busy sitting on committees and planning important parties and making all the money that is required to buy all the ridiculously expensive things their child doesn't really need.
The story is at times genuinely heartbreaking, yet it is told with a trace of humour and sarcasm that maintains an effective balance between making the reader sad and yet still entertaining them, which is very effective. The observations at times are often at their core very tragic, yet always told in a way that is as humorous as it is shocking to the reader, for instance with this observation Nan makes on the "Nanny tour" of the house:
"The distance of the child's room from the parent's room always runs the gamut from far away to really, really far away. In fact, if there is another floor this room will be on it. One has the image of the poor three-year-old awakening from a nightmare and having to don a pith helmet and flashlight to go in search of her parent's room, armed only with a compass and fierce determination."
One thing that I did really like about the book is that, although some of the story seems farcical and over the top - such as Mrs X employing a Long-term Development Consultant when four year old Grayer fails to get into the "right" school, who grills Nan over whether she has been regularly reading the 'Wall Street Journal' to the four year old, and whether she has been dressing him using "an Apparel Chart" while "documenting his choices with him on a Closet Diagram" - as the two authors were nannies themselves prior to writing this, you get the idea that these things are not farfetched ideas produced by their imagination, or that the characters are not simply clichéd stereotypes. In fact, you get the idea that the whole thing is based on reality and that there is a grain of truth in everything, which makes the novel so much more tragic yet compelling also.
As well as having the benefit of experience, however, what really makes the novel so enjoyable is that the two authors also have the benefit of actually being really good writers. Not only is the novel very humorous and entertaining, but the characters are also quite interesting and complex. Mrs X, for instance, is one of the most "alive" characters in the novel and, while she is on the surface a quite detestable character, there are elements in the story which allow you to sympathise with her also.
The two authors also work well together and the whole novel is very smoothly written, with no obvious alteration or point where the two authors obviously switch over. I have read a few books by two authors where this was the case- where the characters' personalities would suddenly change, or the writing would suddenly improve or deteriorate - but with this one you would never know (unless you looked on the cover) that it wasn't written by a single author, as the characters are extremely consistent, as is the quality of writing.
One of my overall favourite things about this book is also that it is quite unique. I get tired of the same old chick lit formulas based around a girl and a boy meeting, overcoming some sort of obstacle, and getting together for a happy ever after ending. However, this is a lot different from that. As with 'The Devil Wears Prada', the novel is based more around Nan's job than it is her love life, and her romance is only a very small subplot in the background. While there were some problems with this (as discussed below), and while this may present a source of disappointment for fans of romantic novels, on the whole I think that it was an interesting unique twist on the chick lit formula that I really enjoyed.
WHAT I DISLIKED
The main thing that I disliked about this novel was the anonymity of the characters, including the narrator and protagonist, Nan. Although the novel is written in first person, it is just not as "honest" as normal chick lit, where you are generally given the protagonist's every thought and feeling, where the focus is on the protagonist's personal life, and where you are given lots of background to the character.
In contrast to the normal chick lit heroine, Nan (or Nanny as she is often referred to) is sadly a little bit anonymous, even down to her name! She doesn't have a proper name, there is little focus on her personal life outside of work (her romance is almost completely skimmed over and only recounted briefly in retrospect), and consequently I just felt a bit detached from her character, feeling as though she were more of a metaphor or type (the typical Nanny) than a fleshed out character.
Similarly, the other characters (with the exception of Grayer, the only "real" character) are equally vague, non specific and anonymous. None of the central characters are given a real name (Nan's boyfriend is simply referred to as HH - standing for Harvard Hottie - throughout the novel, and her employers are dubbed simply Mr and Mrs X), and they all seem to be metaphorical characters or types rather than actual characters.
Mrs X, for instance, is seemingly a metaphor of a ubiquitous type of mum, rather than an actual character. I can see what the authors are trying to do here, but personally I would have preferred them to use their imaginations a bit more and deliver real, authentic and fleshed out characters rather than anonymous metaphors, and tell an authentic, specific, imaginative story, rather than a sort of documentary of life as a typical nanny.
Another letdown of the novel for me personally was that it was a little bit predictable at times, like a lot of chick lit. Although this didn't ruin its enjoyment for me or detract from its entertainment value, it did prevent the book from being completely gripping or intriguing, as I did have an idea at what was coming next at each stage and how it may end, although I didn't anticipate the ending entirely!
Former, current or prospective nannies; parents; or fans of chick lit wanting something a little bit different.
You need a reminder that your family/job isn't so bad after all!
READ IF YOU LIKED...
'Mary Poppins' or 'The Devil Wears Prada'.
IF IT WERE FOOD IT WOULD BE...
Jam sandwich triangles with the crusts removed. Sweet, fun and easy to get through, yet slightly generic (like Nan and Mrs X).
IF IT WERE A COLOUR IT WOULD BE...
Light blue. Inoffensive and subtle, and a little bit sad.
"She is always tiny. Her hair is always straight and thin; she always seems to be inhaling and never exhaling. She is always wearing expensive khaki pants, Chanel ballet flats, a French striped T-shirt, and a white cardigan. Possibly some discreet pearls. In seven years and umpteen interviews the I'm-mom-casual-in-my-khakis-but-intimidating-in-my-$400-shoes outfit never changes. And it is simply impossible to imagine her doing anything so undignified as what was required to get her pregnant in the first place."
MARKS OUT OF 10 FOR:
WRITING STYLE - 7
OVERALL BOOK - 7
The cover of The Nanny Diaries certainly calls to mind Mary Poppins, with its silhouetted figure of a woman flying over the New York skyline. But the story inside is strictly set in the twenty-first century, with its depictions of life at a frantic pace, ladies who lunch, Gucci knickers and sex. Imagine a grown up version of the Babysitters Club, and you've got the Nanny Diaries. The two authors of the book have both worked as nannies for over thirty families, so they know what they are on about. In a Note to Readers, we are told that "this is a work of fiction and none of those families is portrayed in this book". Even so, you can't help feeling that one of them must have worked for a family similar to the awful one in the book. What a way to get revenge on a terrible employer...clever girls. Nan is a young student in New York, who takes up yet another childcare job to pay her rent. She grows to loves Grayer, the four year old boy who is her charge, but is not so keen on his pushy, demanding mother and the never to be seen father. The first thing that irritated me about this book was the fact that the main character is called Nan (how many girls do you know called Nan?) and is a Nanny. The family name is "X", for what reason I can only imagine is the suggestion that the family could be any of thousands the same in New York. It got on my nerves though and I found it pretentious. The book takes us through the time Nan works for the X family, which is approximately a year, and co-incides with her final year at university. What starts off as a part time job ends up being a huge commitment to Nan, as Mrs. X demands more and more from her. Mrs.X is glamorous, bossy and a terrible mother. Mr. X is having an affair with a colleague, which Nan discovers in an embarrassing incident, and feels very uncomfortable about knowing. The pressure builds and builds until Nan is invited to go away with the family for a
holiday, caring for Grayer. The book ends with a satisfying flourish, tying up most of the loose ends but leaving me a little bit disappointed. It took me a few weeks to read this book, which is not good as if I love a book I will read it in two days or less. I found it a bit of a chore to read, especially the pages about yet another childrens party. The dialogue between several four year olds and a young nanny does not exactly make for scintillating reading. The book concentrates on Nan's life when it involves her job, only briefly introducing her father and potential love interest. I would have liked to read more about her life as a whole as I did not feel as though I knew her very well. She lets Mrs. X walk all over her and I didn't really understand why (apart from the good money she gets paid). I would not really recommend this book. For sunbathing reading I would rather have more sex and giggles, and for serious reading something more substantial. I would not have missed anything if I never read this, but that?s not to say it?s terrible, just not especially good. It costs £6.99 in paperback from Penguin-that's if you still want to get it after reading this.
Nan, in her early twenties, goes to work for the wealthy X family to help put herself through college, and is shocked by their antics. Between raising the X's son Grayer, keeping on top of her studies, moving house and ensuring Mrs X's day runs smoothly, it's a wonder Nanny ever finds time to hang out with the gorgeous HH on the sixth floor. With divorce on the cards, Nanny finds herself caught up in the X's embittered world of power plays, lies and deciet.