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Monday 26 November 2012

The Au Pair

by Janey Fraser

When Jilly’s husband David is demoted at work, she needs to make some money.  She’s committed to staying at home with her three boys, and when she sees one of her wealthier friends having problems with her au pair, she thinks she has found the perfect solution: she’ll set up a website, work from the kitchen table, recruit helpful girls for welcoming families, and do everything so much better than the existing agencies. Or that’s the plan.

Jilly is a neither smart, thin nor rich; her teenager is hormone-ridden and her twin boys are....twin boys.  David wants her to help family finances, but doesn’t want her work to impinge on family life.  If she tries to be efficient at work, her domestic world falls apart, and if she tries to be a good wife and mother, her business goes into free fall.  Sound familiar? All of this makes Jilly a much more appealing heroine than I had anticipated when I saw the title of this book.  Au pairs?  Middle-class angst?  Women with too much time and money?  Whilst it would be true to say that the characters in Janey Fraser’s entertaining novel are hardly on the breadline, she does a great job of drawing us in to each of their lives, showing us that there are always two sides to every story.

Paula, Jilly’s best friend, has plenty of money, a wayward husband, and an au pair from hell.  As Jilly’s agency starts to take off, Paula becomes increasingly distant - does she disapprove of Jilly’s chaotic home life, or is there something else behind her frostiness?

Matthew, one of Jilly’s first clients, is mourning his wife, and trying to cope with what happened before her death, whilst dealing with his young daughter’s own grief and manipulative behaviour.  His first au pair is a nightmare, but her departure involves Matthew in a tragic event.  Can Jilly find him a perfect replacement?

Dawn has everything, and demands everything from her au pairs; her children are badly behaved and spoilt, but Dawn spends all her time at the gym or entertaining, and can’t give them the only thing they really want - her time.  Her wealthy, successful husband seems so much more human, - long-suffering even - , as he humours Dawn’s endless demands; but is he all that he seems?

Into this mix come the au pairs - young, pretty and looking for fun.  Personality clashes are inevitable, as their hosts expect childcare and cooking, whilst the girls are here to party.  Marie-France, however, is different; her own mother came to Corrywood as an au pair, and went home pregnant - now Marie-France wants to find her father.  Her impoverished but glamorous mother won’t even tell her his name; her boyfriend thinks she’s being unfaithful.  She may be the best mother’s help on Jilly’s books, but her secret agenda ruffles the feathers of certain respectable locals - some of them not a million miles from Jilly’s own front door.

Janey Fraser has written a great story - we really do want to know what is going to happen to everyone, especially Marie-France - with characters who come to life and involve us in their struggles.  Although the tone of the book is light and breezy, it also addresses more serious issues - culture clash, infidelity, bereavement, loneliness and parenting are all examined en route to a happy, if predictable, ending.  A feel-good novel that manages to avoid many of the cliches of its genre.

Reviewed by Rosemary Kaye

Thanks to the publishers for the review copy of this book.