A married couple find themselves entranced by their new nanny.
Adam and Anita have been married for years. They have a young daughter, a house in the French provinces, and, despite a few discontents, a stable home life. Twenty years ago, Adam was an aspiring artist, Anita an aspiring writer, an immigrant from the island of Mauritius, and they lived in Paris, and life was glamorous. Now, having returned to the provinces where Adam grew up, the glamour has faded. Adam does something boring and stable for a living; Anita serves as a stringer for the local paper. Then they hire Adèle, another Mauritian, to care for their daughter and help out at home. Adèle has a mysterious presence and a tragic past, and before long, both Adam and Anita find themselves captivated. More than that, they each, in different ways, and without permission, begin to incorporate Adèle’s story into their art—Adam in a series of paintings, Anita in a new novel. Appanah (The Last Brother, 2010, etc.) has a lyrical, melodic style, but she holds her characters at an odd distance, so they seem more like paper dolls than living beings. Likewise, the things that happen to Adam, Anita, and Adèle seem to happen far away, almost as though Appanah is telling the story of a story and not the story itself. The novel’s dire ending, therefore, toward which the narrator has hinted throughout the book, doesn’t feel earned. And though Appanah introduces intriguing threads related to Anita’s attempts to assimilate to (white) French culture, she doesn’t follow through on them. As a result, the book has an air of being only partially realized.
Lyricism and a chilling atmosphere don’t quite make up for a story that feels unfinished.