Apparently anyone can set up an au pair agency around their kitchen table. So when money gets tight, Jilly does exactly that. But she hadn't reckoned on Marie-France, a sparky French girl, signing up in the hope of finding her father, twenty years after her own mother had been an au pair in the same town.
Then there's Matthew, a confused widower whose daughter has driven away a string of au pairs. Can Jilly ever find him the perfect match?
And let's not forget the rest of the au pair mafia, including Heidi, Fatima and Antoinette who 'likes children but not very much'.
The Au Pair is an hilarious but truthful romp through the world of au pairs and their unsuspecting families."
Janey Fraser's second novel of 2012, The Au Pair, is one I have been looking forward to reading since I enjoyed her debut novel The Playgroup earlier this year. When I first saw the cover too, I thought it was perfect for the book and I was even more excited to read it. I have to say I was surprised when I received a review copy because it looked like a long read, at nearly 600, longer than most chick lit books are, and considerably longer than her previous novel. Still, I was hoping the story inside would be good enough to carry it through, and hopefully be as enjoyable as The Playgroup! In case you didn't know, Janey Fraser has also published novels under the name of Sophie King, all of which are fabulous too!
The book tells the story of several au pairs living in Britain with different families in one small town. Jilly decides to start up her own 'Au Pair Agency' after finding her financial situation at home a bit too tight for comfort, and the fact that she can't go out to work full time due to her young twins. Her first au pair, a young French girl called Marie-France seems like a dream, and is placed with a quite dislikeable British family, with the mother Donna treating Marie-France as her slave. Another client of Jilly's is widower Matthew, struggling to bring up his daughter alone, especially as she's adamant she doesn't want an au pair in her home. Jilly's other au pairs including Heidi, Fatima (who's hiding a bit of a surprise!) and Antoinette, the trouble maker. Will Jilly be able to make a success out of her agency, or has she got one au pair too many on the books?!
Now just from that synopsis you can see that there are a lot of characters, and that's the way it is throughout the book. There are a lot of names to get your head around and I found myself struggling a little bit at first to keep with who was who! After a little while, I settled into the different stories and started to enjoy the different characters, but it is a little mind-boggling at first! I also found that I confused the au pair's more than anything else, as some of them only get a passing mention whereas others (such as Marie-France, my favourite by far) are far more pivotal in the story. I think Fraser enjoys writing big casts in her books, as there were a lot of them in The Playgroup too, and as long as you're paying attention you won't find too many problems as you are reading!
All of the au pairs in the book are foreign and come from Europe with various states of English language, qualifications and expectations in the job, something I expect is quite reflective of real life. I found the language barrier was an amusing addition to the book, because it caused some humour between the characters and it did make me giggle at times. I liked the way Fraser weaved it easily into her stories, and it made me realise how easily we use our funny English expressions, and how they often don't relate at all to what we are trying to say! I found the au pairs were all well written characters, with Marie-France being my favourite and the nicest of the bunch - I can't say I would want any of them in my home though, most of them were dreadful! Saying that, the English housewives (and Matthew) weren't much better and clearly blurred the lines of what they thought an au pair was for! Jilly, who is trying to run the ship, was honestly quite useless and I got a bit exasperated by halfway through at her!
There are a lot of things going on in this book, and while I enjoyed it a lot, I did find there was too much happening for me in parts and I did struggle to keep my head above water with what was going on. I really enjoyed reading the story of the widower Matthew bringing up his daughter alone after the death of his wife, it was sad and dealt with the difficulties a single dad has to go through, and how grief affects adults and children in different ways. Fraser deals with this story theme, and the others in the book very well, including Marie-France's own desperation to find her British father whilst working as an au pair. It felt really long as I was reading it, and there were perhaps a few stories which could have been cut out and not missed, but its a good book to take on a longer holiday to sit and enjoy in the sun, good escapist reading that'll make you glad you don't have an au pair to be honest! It's funny, well written and an enjoyable book which is perhaps slightly too long, and while it's not as good as The Playgroup, it's still very much worth reading!
You can buy The Au Pair as an eBook or a paperback now.