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 young charge. 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 truth lies with six women: Geraldine, a heartbroken French teacher struggling to support her vulnerable young students; Lou, an incompetent au pair who was recently fired by the family next door; Charlotte, a chilly socialite and reluctant mother; Nathalie, an isolated French teenager desperate for her mother’s attention; Holly, a socially anxious au pair yearning to belong in her adopted country; and finally, Alena, the one accused of the crime, who has gone to great lengths to avoid emotional connection, and now finds herself caught in the turbulent power dynamics of her host family’s household.
Set during the weeks leading up to the event, The Caretakers is a poignant and suspenseful drama featuring complicated women. It’s a sensitive exploration of the weight of secrets, the pressures of country, community, and family–and miscommunications and misunderstandings that can have fatal consequences.
Set in the world of young American au pairs working for rich French families in Paris, The Caretakers grew on me as I read it. To start with I found it hard to get into – in fact it took almost 40% of the book before I found myself eager to read on. The book has quite a slow start, despite the quite dramatic revelation that a young child in one of the au pair’s care has died. We rotate between various characters – both French family members and some of the American au pairs, six women in total. We learn about their lives, backgrounds and frustrations.
The more I read about the characters, the more I became intrigued. I didn’t warm to many of the characters – especially not the mothers. The au pairs I mostly found rather irritating, but I did care about what happened to some of them (surprisingly)!
I wouldn’t call this a mystery but I did like the element of ‘whose fault was the young child’s death’ and the way it was eventually brought to a conclusion. The various characters are all connected, some more than they realise, and I enjoyed reading the different threads come together.
It’s an interesting character study and one I quite enjoyed, but it didn’t blow me away.
My rating: 3/5
Many thanks to the publisher, Little Brown Book Group, for providing a copy of this book on which I chose to write an honest review.