When our kids were small, I had a demanding corporate career, and my husband worked all hours starting his own company. Getting them to and from daycare was stressful, and we couldn’t stay home with them when they were sick. Like most young parents, we couldn’t afford a nanny, so we got the next best thing, an au pair. We had five different au pairs from five different countries: Denmark, Norway, England, Germany, and Slovakia. The experiences were overwhelming positive, although our first one should have been sent packing after wrecking our car twice and several of her friends expelled licorice-flavored liqueur on our family room rug. Oh, and then there was the time we had a tornado warning and she sent our 5-year-old up to her bedroom alone to get her pajamas when she sheltered in the basement. There was a touchdown less than two miles away. Such was my perspective while reading The Caretakers.
Paris, 2015. A crowd gathers outside the Chauvet home in the affluent suburban community of Maisons-Larue, watching as the family’s American au pair is led away in handcuffs after the sudden death of her eight-year-old charge, Julien. The grieving mother believes the caretaker is to blame, and the neighborhood is thrown into chaos, unsure who is at fault—the enigmatic, young foreigner or the mother herself, who has never seemed an active participant in the lives of her children.
The novel explores the complex perspectives of several women: Charlotte, Julien’s chilly socialite mother; Lou, an incompetent au pair fired by the family next door; Holly, an anxious au pair who is desperate for friends in France; Charlotte’s sullen teenage daughter, Nathalie, who is desperate for her mother’s attention; Alena, the young woman accused of the child’s death, and Madame Geraldine, the French teacher who knows all the girls intimately.
Set during the weeks leading up to the event, The Caretakers is a poignant and suspenseful drama featuring complicated women. Contemplatively written with exquisite characterization, the author pulls in her readers and never lets them go. Amanda Bestor-Siegal’s debut was brilliant. The plot was unique, intricate and salacious, and the author’s gift for character development was obvious. Each of the au pairs had very different experiences—some were treated like family, while others were mere servants to demanding host parents. The Caretakers was a fast-moving thriller unlike anything I’ve ever read. 4 stars.
Published Date: April 2022
Genre: Mainstream fiction
Read-alikes: Greenwich Park by Katherine Faulkner, Monogamy by Sue Miller, All We Ever Wanted by Emily Griffin