The Nanny by Melissa Nathan

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The Nanny by Melissa Nathan

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: Engaging account of one clever young nanny finding her way in the world and (of course) finding her true love. Extra plots involving children and parents substantially broaden the appeal. The laughs are gentle but frequent; a few topical issues are also touched upon in a light-hearted way, and the children are well observed. Recommended for female readers of 15+ who like chick-lit, family sagas with humour or any combination of the two.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: April 2003
Publisher: Arrow
ISBN: 0099427974

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In order to keep enough variety in my book reviews and to ward off any comments relating to my supposed snobbery in literary matters I thought it would be a good idea to review a book from a genre that is often thought to be the epitome of easy-read, badly written, shallow entertainment. You know, these books with colourful covers drawn in `bang-on-the-door` or `groovy-chick` style. Oh, yes. The chick-lit.

Melissa Nathan wrote a couple of (pretty dire) Jane Austen inspired books before while "The Nanny" uses more of the Jane Eyre model (albeit very loosely); with a sprinkling of Mary Poppins too.

Jo is a 23 year old nanny who lives with her parents in a small town called Niblet-upon-Avon, has a beautiful builder-boyfriend called Shaun (whom she persistently refuses to marry) and group of close friends with whom she shares banter and pub outings. She also feels stifled, bored, needing to break out and break free. An ad in "Lady" provides direction: and Jo goes to London to become a nanny to three children of Dick and Vanessa; complete with her own suite of rooms in a beautifully decorated Highgate house and exclusive use of a Renault Clio.

Adapting to the new environment is not easy, the family she works for provides a formidable challenge indeed and the distance doesn't really make her heart grow fonder of Shaun. As the story progresses, Jo learns how to deal with the kids and the parents, finds friends and potential boyfriends and meets a rather fetchingly brooding accountant named Josh who happens to be Dick's son from the previous relationship. Eventually she even unpacks her rucksack (many many weeks after coming to London for the first time).

That is all you are getting from me plot-wise; and there is quite a few plots and sub-plots in "The Nanny" in a true proper-novel manner: we have Jo's family, romantic and work/study developments; we have the stormy patch in her employers' marriage; we have the school bully story involving one of the children; we have the issues concerning the relationships between the children of the same father from different mothers.

All of these stories are told in an entertaining, engaging way, with humour mostly warm but occasionally scathing, with humanity and sympathy, in a language that it simple but doesn't grate or jar, in a style that is colloquial and far from a pinnacle of literary artistry but doesn't make one's jaws clench in pain either.

"The Nanny" is a good example of a gentle, well executed entertainment; a rom-com (a book like that has to be rom-something to appeal to its target audience) but with added bonuses that make it attractive to a wider readership and place the book a wee cut above your standard chick-lit of the Jane Mansell or Sophie Kinsella ilk (and it is better written than those).

The heroine is sympathetic and intelligent and carries the novel well. Jo's story is essentially about finding her own way: working out what her real values are and then having enough guts to follow them. After all, at 16 she wanted to be an anthropologist.

Vanessa's and Dick's marriage provides a lot of "The Nanny's" laughs; but also presents a good look at the dilemmas faced by a career woman who isn't necessarily cut out for full-time motherhood and feels guilty because of it; and a man that thrives in the domestic environment but feels compelled to be the family's provider to which role he has no inclination whatsoever.

The social milieu is bit of a caricature but well observed, well described and well contrasted, in particular between Jo's parents' lifestyle versus her employers': the decor, the food, the attitudes are all there.

Melissa Nathan has a good ear for dialogue: her characters speak (to each other and to themselves) in the way that usually seems natural and often well observed. I didn't suffer this constant "Ohmygod, people DON'T speak like that" and I often smiled, especially at the sarcastic exchanges between Dick and Vanessa.

The true joys of "The Nanny" were for me the parts related to the children Jo was looking after: from the maliciously plotting 12-year olds that Cassie confronts to the behaviours of the 6 year old Zack enthralled by his older half-brother. My favourite was unquestionably the little 4 year old Tallulah; I have a daughter of the same age and the speech and behaviour of an extremely precocious but also rather sensitive 4 year old was captured by the author with an accuracy which brought me chuckles of delight.

All in all, "The Nanny" is one of the better light novels I have read in the last few months. It's competently written, well observed, engaging account of one clever young nanny finding her way in the world and (of course) finding where her true love (for the time being at least) lies. Accompanying plots involving children and their parents substantially broadens the novel's appeal. the laughs are gentle but frequent; a few topical issue are also touched upon in a light-hearted way, but still; and the children are well observed and described.

Recommended for female readers of 15+ who like chick-lit, family sagas or any combination of the two.

Sex is done but not described graphically and I recall a few instances of mild 'language'.

Booklists.jpg The Nanny by Melissa Nathan is in the Bookbag's Chick Lit Picks.

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Zoë said:

I agree, Magda. I bought this while in a "reading anything to do with nannying" phase, and was pleased to discover a half-decent story underneath. I've read a few of her other books too but this one is definitely the one I'd recommend.

Magda said:

Yes, I read the earlier ones and 'The Waitress' too but all were disapponting.