Published by Penguin
Publication date: August 18th 2011
Genres: Chick Lit, Contemporary, Fiction
What the Nanny Saw is not the first book to look at the insular and dysfunctional world of nannies and the uber-rich but it may be the first to delve into that life as the employers are on their way down. Ali Sparrow is taking a year off from school to earn enough money to pay for her final year and has chosen the role of nanny as her job. She lands a plum assignment with the Skinner family, basically watching two young twin boys and monitoring the school work and activities of a fifteen year-old girl and a nineteen-year old boy. Their mother Bryony is a partner at a financial PR firm and their father Nick is a director at an investment bank. What they lack in warmth and time they make up for in money and more money. Ali goes from living in a fishing cottage on the coast to a tony house in one of the most fashionable neighborhoods in London. She vacations with the family in Greece and is given couture clothes Bryony no longer wants. Everything goes according to Ali’s plans until the recession in 2008 calls into question both Bryony and Jack’s professional behavior. In an effort to get details, the press looks to one of the few people who has been on the very inside. Ali.
What the Nanny Saw does explore the interesting premise of the place of household staff within a family. Especially a nanny who is, essentially raising your children. Ali is constantly walking a fine line between staff (to be ignored and asked to fetch) and confidante (child and marital troubles). It is only when she crosses the line in her employer’s eyes that the story plummets, in a not unexpected fashion, putting Ali at the forefront of the family’s troubles. The nanny/family scandal situation is enough of a plot for most anyone looking for this kind of fiction but add in an affair with a married tutor, a drug addict sister, a nanny/employer affair, more infidelity, and a bombastic, drunken father-in-law and the stereotypes invoked become too much. These additional storylines add almost one hundred pages to the book that should be culled. In addition Neill uses an omniscient point-of-view but never connects with any one character enough to create a bond. We dive bomb into almost everyone’s head before the book is over but only for a sentence or two and in a way that leaves one wondering ‘why?’ These two points leave the reader with a conflicting feeling of too much and not enough and the novel in an awkward space between light satire and social statement. Like the nanny, it doesn’t quite belong in either world.