Ruth and Christian are – just – holding their marriage together, after Christian’s disastrous affair a year ago. But chaos beckons, and when the family are suddenly left without any childcare, Agatha comes into their lives to solve all their problems. But Agatha is not as perfect as she seems and her love for the children masks a deeper secret.
I read a review of this book on Lizzy’s Literary Life and something told me I might like it. And I did. It was one of those super fast reads, a book that I could hardly put down. Really riveting. The only complaint I have is that this is labelled as a psychological thriller. Although there is a part of it reminiscent of Ruth Rendell, it is like a background story and not really very gripping. At least not for me. Still I consider this to be a real page-turner for the simple reason that it captures chaotic family life in so much detail and explores some of the questions and problems parents who work full-time would face. I often enjoy descriptions of domestic life although I don’t live anything that is even remotely comparable.
Ruth and Christian both not only work full-time but overtime many days of the week. They both have careers that seem to absorb all of their energy and when they come home in the evening they face total chaos. The place is dirty, sticky and disorderly, the little girl is screaming constantly and throws one temper tantrum after the other. The little boy, at three, still doesn’t eat properly and drinks from a bottle. The nights are nightmares too. Ruth and Christian fight and when they finally go to bed, the girl starts to scream again. She always wakes at midnight and never goes back to sleep.
At the beginning of the novel Ruth knows she isn’t capable of going on like this. She needs a new nanny. And in comes Agatha. We know from the start that something is wrong with her. She lives in daydreams and lies to her employers and to herself constantly. Something bad has happened in her past, a trauma that she cannot overcome and tries to repress with her imagination.
Family life improves considerably after she has started working for Ruth and Christian. She is super organized and makes Ruth feel deficient. To make things worse, Christian accidentally meets the woman he has had an affair with and starts seeing her for drinks.
Something bad, coming from Agatha, is lurking in the background and we know things will go very awry. But as said, this is completely toned down. I was fascinated by Ruth. Christian was not particularly interesting. Just one of those guys who thinks he has the right to have an affair when his wife is pregnant for the second time and is not that much into him during that time. Ruth shows every sign of a severe depression and what I found interesting is the fact that this did not start right after she had the first baby but several months later. As if the bubble of enchantment that the little baby brought burst suddenly. From that moment on she struggles. I could feel the exhaustion of that woman and I know that this is very realistic. Women around me have mentioned it. If you are unlucky and have a baby that doesn’t sleep well and you need to go to work every morning… Ruth is a journalist and her work is very demanding. There is always someone waiting to jump into her position should she show signs of weakness.
I also hear the type of questioning very often that Ruth utters. Is it OK to work full-time and have children? Is it OK to have someone else looking after them? I think in the book the problem isn’t only that Ruth works full-time but that both work overtime and that she tries for too long to cope with everything else as well. She is afraid that having a nanny means defeat. And she thinks that women like Nigella Lawson are an example for the fact that it is possible to have and do it all yourself.
There is a strange fascination in seeing people at their most vulnerable, when their masks are down. That’s what made this book so riveting for me. And I think the questions it asks are very important.
I would be curious to hear from anyone who has read it.
This was Araminta Hall’s first novel. I really wouldn’t mind reading the next one too.