Weekend Reading #3: The Nanny Diaries

The Nanny Diaries (you may have read it; I’m probably the last on the planet who hasn’t) is written by two ex-nannies to the Manhattan socialite set.
The novel portrays the struggles of a young nanny who cares for a poor little rich boy who is emotionally abandoned and rigidly programmed by narcissistic parents (the nursery school interviews, latin lessons, the “spatula move” where the mother deflects a hug and keeps the child off her clothing.) The nanny puts up with increasing hours without increasing pay, increasingly baroque shopping errands, and being berated for mistakes like getting the wrong brand of lavender water.
Subplots: the nanny is caught in the middle of the dad’s office affair, and pursues a “Harvard Hottie” of her own.
The Amazon reviews follow one or more of the following paths:

  • glee at watching the very rich act worse than you and me
  • sympathy with the nanny for caring for Grayer though his parents are nasty people and bad employers
  • lack of sympathy with the nanny for accepting said working conditions
  • sympathy for children who grow up that way
  • appreciation for the novel’s satirical comedy
  • disappointment at the unpolished writing style

I enjoyed the picture of the hellish life under pearls and signed original artwork on the Upper East Side. I enjoyed the catty detail about

  • the absurd programmed lives of wealthy preschoolers

    Tuesday: 4-5pm: Swimming lesson at Asphalt Green, 90th Street and East End Avenue. One emaciated woman in a Chanel swimsuit and five nannies in muumuus all pleading with toddlers to “Get in the water.”

  • the absurd lives of wealthy adults

    I’ll need you to start assembling the following items for the gift bags: Annick Goutal soap; Piper Heidseick, small bottoe, Morocco leather travel picture frame, red or green; Mont Blanc pen— small; LAVENDAR WATER
    Have you met Julio? Isn’t he a genius? He is the tree [decorating] expert. You should see what he did at the Egglestons– it was just breathaking
    …the tower of cashmere sweaters, each one wrapped with tissue and individually stored in its own clear drawer…Each pair of panties, every bra, every stocking is individually packed in a Ziplock baggy and labeled: “Bra, Hanro, white,” “Stockings, Fogal, black.

  • The army of paraprofessionals hired to guide the education of toddlers:

    “Do you play the Suzuki tapes?”
    “Only when he takes a bath”
    “Have you been reading to him from the Wall Street Journal? The Economist? The Finanical Times”?
    “What methodology are you following to dress him? And I suppose you are not documenting his choices with him on a closet diagram, nor are you having him translate his color and sizes into the Latin.

The book isn’t great art: I have no complaints about rapid writing, shallow characterization, and minor plot gaps.
But I also felt like the books played rich people for cheap laughs.
In contrast to her employers, our heroine has loving parents (schoolteacher and director of association of battered women’s shelters); a creative, independent, doting grandma.
But heartless parenting, relentless schedules, and narcissistic sex lives are characteristics of the downside of American culture at all income levels. The book lets readers get off the hook by attributing these traits to multi-millionaires.
The nanny is loving and firm and playful with the kids. She also has a lot in common with her employers; she covets designer shoes, drinks too much, spends extra income on clothes and alcohol and then feels stuck in a horrible job for the money.
The Harvard Hottie works for the UN war crimes tribunal at the Hague; he isn’t an investment banker. But he’s obviously a catch for our young upwardly mobile heroine in the way the restaurant-owning son of a fellow nanny is obviously not.
The social x-rays who employ our heroine scheme and sneak to get their men; use the men’s money for status and luxuries; and then are at constant risk of social decline when their men move on to the next trophy. Our heroine may become as dependent on her HH for money and prestige as her employers.

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