What the Nanny Saw
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It's the summer of 2008. For the past decade Nick and Bryony Skinner and their four children have ridden high on the economic boom, but their luck is about to run out. Suddenly, the privileged family finds itself at the center of a financial scandal:
their Central London house is besieged by the press, Nick disappears, and Bryony and the children become virtual prisoners in their own home. And Ali, their trusted nanny, watches it all. As the babysitter, she brings a unique insider-outsider perspective to the family, seeing far more than even the family itself is capable of. But when a reporter with a personal connection to the story comes asking her for the inside scoop, will Ali remain loyal to the family who never saw her as anything other than the help? Or will she tell her side?
Written with Fiona Neill's delicious humor and addictive style, What the Nanny Saw is a keenly observed, often comical chronicle of the urban wealthy elite, of parents who are often too busy to notice what is going on under their own noses, of children left to their own devices, and of a young nanny thrown into a role she doesn't know how to play. It is a morality tale of our time, a tale of betrayal, the corrosive influence of too much money, and why good people sometimes do bad things.
Fiona Neill is a features writer for the London Times Magazine, where her weekly "Slummy Mummy" column appears. She lives in North London with her husband and their three children.
- “Nannies always have the bird’seye view, Ali. People forget you’re in the room. You melt into the scenery. Like wallpaper.” In what ways is Ali Sparrow invisible to the Skinner family, and in what ways does she remain an outsider? What does it allow her to see about this family that they themselves cannot?
- Ali has one foot in and one foot out of many groups: the Skinner family, the “nanny mafia,” her university, her own family. How does this shape her sense of self and where she does or doesn’t belong? What is stopping her from fully claiming membership in any of these groups?
- Ali tells Nick Skinner, “There are more important things in life than money,” and he replies that, in both the überwealthy world he lives in and the very poor world that Ali’s nanny friend Malea lives in, this is not true. How are Nick’s and Malea’s preoccupations with money similar? Why do they each care about it so much, and how does it drive their relationships and actions?
- The twins speak to one another in a “secret language” that concerns and mystifies their family. Later, it turns out that their seemingly invented language is in fact Filipino, which they learned from spending so much time with their foreign housekeeper. Is the second language and the time spent with the housekeeper a negative thing, filling a void, or is it positive, supplementing their emotional and intellectual experiences?
- Ali and her nanny friends, Malea and Katya, all work to send money back to their families. To what extremes do they go to help their loved ones? Are there any parallels within the Skinner/Foy family? What are some other measures that characters in this book take to try and protect their families?
- The author sets up an interesting contrast between the Skinners and Ali’s own family. Ali’s father is a poor fisherman, and Bryony’s father is a rich one. Ali’s sister has struggled with addiction, and Izzy struggles with body and selfesteem issues. Do you see any other parallels or contrasts? What does the author reveal about the different cultures surrounding these families and the different ways they interact with the world and with each other?
- Do you pity the Skinners when the crisis strikes? Or do they deserve what they get? How do you feel about the fact that Nick gets another highpaying banking job?
- What kind of loyalty does Ali owe to the Skinners? When the scandal breaks, the rest of the staff leaves, but Ali stays. Do you think she does so for them or for herself? Is staying the right decision?
- When Bryony finds out what Ali and Jake have been doing behind her back, she feels deeply betrayed. Is she right to feel this way? What has changed in Ali, by the end, to allow her to participate in this relationship, or do you think it was always inevitable?
- Because of her unique perspective on the family and its members’ activities, Ali sees Nick’s dangerous behaviors before anyone else figures them out. Having spent so much time with the family, she also sees some of what may have driven him to it. Do you think this perspective makes her then more or less understanding or forgiving of him? What does she think about him in the end? What does she think of Bryony? How have her feelings about both of them evolved from the beginning of the book?
- “We wouldn’t work if you didn’t work,” Bryony says to Nick in a fight about their marriage. What does she mean by this? Why does she suggest their relationship would fall apart if he had a more lowprofile job? Do you think she is correct?
- “Love and hate often sleep in the same bed, don’t you think?” Katya says to Ali at one point. How is this true for the different couples in this book? What kind of portrait of marriage does the author paint?
- “There is no education like misfortune,” Ali tells Izzy. What has Ali learned from her misfortune? How does her relationship with her sister impact the choices she makes and the way she does her job? What kind of impact do you think Ali makes on Izzy in general?
- Bryony vows that she was ignorant of the ways her husband had used her business for his own personal (criminal) gain. Do you agree that she is completely without blame? What does it say about their relationship that he would implicate her in this way? Do you think he was motivated by the chance to take advantage of Bryony, or was he just seizing an opportunityany opportunityto get ahead?