18 August 2011

Book Review: What the Nanny Saw by Fiona Neill

When penniless student Ali Sparrow answers Bryony and Nick Skinner's advertisement her life changes overnight. She is catapulted into the privileged and excessive world of London's financial elite. At first everything is overwhelming - from twins who speak their own language to a teenage girl with weight issues and a son almost her own age. Then there is Bryony, who has one eye on her dazzling career and the other on Ali's failings. When boom turns to bust and a scandal erupts that suggests something corrupt has been hatched behind the Skinners' front door, their private life is suddenly public news. And as Ali becomes indispensible, she realizes she's witness to things she probably shouldn't see. But is she principled enough to keep the family's secrets when the press come prowling for the inside scoop? Or will she dish the dirt on the family who never saw her as anything other than part of the scenery?

I've read one of Fiona Neill's previous novels, and while I enjoyed it, I wasn't blown away by it if I'm entirely honest. Neill didn't come back with any new material for a while, but now she is back with What the Nanny Saw and I thought it sounded like a really interesting concept. I can't say I am blown away by the cover, it's a little bland for my liking but I haven't seen a finished edition, I only received a proof copy for the purpose of this review. However, once I picked it up, I quickly found myself engrossed in the world of Ali Sparrow and the Skinners, and it certainly put me off the thought of ever being a Nanny myself although being the mum of a 5 year old is pretty busy in itself! I was ploughing through the novel, and I have to say I really enjoyed it.

Neill manages to create an element of mystery straight away, and as a reader we are left wondering what has happened in the Skinner hosuehold that is so bad that Nick, husband and father, has run away leaving his family to deal with the fallout and exactly what Ali knows about the situation. It isn't revealed until almost the end exactly what went on, but from things that are insinuated throughout the book, I got the gist of what he could have possibly although me knowing didn't spoil the book in any way, as I was desperate to find out how things would pan out once it was revealed. I have to say that by and large, the financial talk and jargon went entirely over my head, I genuinely had no clue what was going on and myself glossing over those paragraphs, and luckily it didn't seem to affect my reading of the book, and perhaps all the jargon was a little too heavy and surpluss to requirements here.

The characters were all well written, and my favourites were definitely the young twins Hector and Alfie, such enjoyable and fun characters in an otherwise pretty straight-laced novel. Ali Sparrow is the character through which we see life at the Skinner home, although she is hiding a few secrets herself. I liked her very much, she seemed a 'normal' person flung into a world of wealth and privilege that she's never experienced before, and it was fun seeing her try to deal with the family's expectations of her. Bryony is the mum at the Skinners, but also a successful finance agent, a somewhat neurotic woman obsessed with how close her twin sons are, and ignorant of the woes of her eldest. I found her quite hard to like to be honest, and the same goes for her husband Nick, a quite dislikeable man although you do get the impression that he always tries his best for his family, even though he doesn't know how to communicate with them most of the time!

I found the writing style of the book easy to get into, and expect for the financial bits which were hard going, it was generally a fun reading experience. I was always wanting to pick it up and get a peek into the apparently glam lives of the Skinners, although we know what is really going on behind closed doors. I liked how Neill unfolds the story piece by piece, also giving us an insight into Ali's past and why she chose to be a Nanny herself, letting us get to know and really like the lead character. The chapters are all months leading up to the events which happened at the start of the book, and so you get a sense of d0om, and I loved looking out for the signs of things beginning to unravel for the family. It was a really engrossing read and I would definitely recommend it for those looking for something a bit different from their chick lit - there's no boy meets girl and happily ever after here and it was quite refreshing! I really loved this book, and look forward to more from Fiona Neill after reading this.

Rating: 4/5

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