How we remember our childhood is often very different to reality. And in The Nanny, Gilly Macmillan explores this gap between perception and truth, to devastating effect.
One summer night in 1988, seven-year-old Jocelyn Holt’s nanny, Hannah, disappears without trace. The child is left bereft and consumed with anger at her mother, who she believes caused Hannah to leave. Haunted by loss and a dysfunctional childhood, Jocelyn grown into a bitter woman, leaving her faded aristocratic home, Lake Hall, and her parents, as soon as she can.
Thirty years later she is forced by circumstances to return to the family home. Now a young widow with a daughter of her own, Jocelyn resumes her edgy relationship with her mother (her father, whom she loved best, is now dead).
Then, one gorgeous summer day, Jocelyn’s daughter Ruby discovers human remains of the shores of the eponymous lake in the grounds. Jocelyn, who now calls herself Jo in reaction to her mother’s grand taste in names, begins to question everything she thought she knew about the nanny’s disappearance. Just as she begins to make sense of it, an unexpected visitor knocks on the door. Jo’s world fragments again.
She begins to realise her childhood memories are full of gaps and holes. Her relationship with her mother, fractious and barely civil at the best of times, disintegrates yet further as Jo resents her own child’s affection for her grandmother.
Macmillan is diabolically clever at playing with our perceptions. One page you love Jo and hate her mother. The next, your opinions make a complete U-turn.
Clever, tricky, and with a terrific twist, this Nanny is no Mary Poppins. But she makes for a damn good read.