Best books on nannies: Author Patricia Nicol suggests novels focused on the challenges of childcare

A stranger recently texted me, asking if I could supply a reference. She was thinking of employing the nanny who had looked after our firstborn when I returned to full-time work.

‘She was excellent,’ I said, ‘but we haven’t seen her in eight years. Surely there’s a more up-to-date referee?’ The woman explained she was being thorough, having already been let down once.

There are few more important decisions a parent can take than to whom to entrust their children.

Even in the most enlightened of households, childcare, like laundry, seems to fall to the woman to sort.

Leila Slimani’s Lullaby (pictured) opens with every parent's worst nightmare

Leila Slimani’s Lullaby (pictured) opens with every parent's worst nightmare

Jilly Cooper’s Harriet (pictured) follows a university drop out who becomes a nanny

Jilly Cooper’s Harriet (pictured) follows a university drop out who becomes a nanny

Literary expert Patricia Nicol shared a selection of books focused on nannies including Leila Slimani’s Lullaby (pictured left) and Jilly Cooper’s Harriet (pictured right)

It is a stressful business and can feel like a thankless one: many see little change from their taxed income after childcare. In the office, working mothers often feel overlooked, or conspicuous for the wrong reasons — in a macho environment, there is no walk of shame like the desk-to-creche dash. Amazingly, speculation is already rife as to what The Duke and Duchess of Sussex might do for childcare for baby Archie.

I’d recommend anyone thinking of recruiting someone to look after their children give Leila Slimani’s Lullaby a wide berth.

This terrifying, acutely observed, bestselling social drama, opens with every parent’s worst nightmare, then spools back to tell the story of elegant Parisians Myriam and Paul and their ‘perfect’ nanny.

Meanwhile, a nanny seeking a well-heeled employer might read Jill Dawson’s The Language Of Birds as a cautionary text. It is inspired by the 1974 murder of 29-year-old Sandra Rivett. If that name does not ring a bell, then that of her presumed murderer, Lord Lucan, will.

Are there any nannying tales that won’t leave you in a state? Absolutely: Nina Stibbe’s epistolary Love, Nina — and I have a soft spot for Jilly Cooper’s Harriet, where a dreamy Oxford undergrad is forced to drop out after a cad leaves her pregnant.

Divorcing Hollywood screenwriter Cory Erskine takes her and her son into his rambling Yorkshire mansion to look after his children.

Gloriously Seventies, it is a spoonful of sugar if you’re finding modern life hard to swallow.


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