So, what exactly did the nanny see? The title of Fiona Neill's fictional tell-all suggests that it's a juicy, toss-the-bone-china-against-the-fireplace, dust-off-the-Steinway-with-your- La-Perla-knickers affair. But Neill might be too enthralled by rich people to mock the bad things they do. As the voice of London's popular Slummy Mummy column, which ran in The Times Magazine and inspired her 2006 U.K. best-seller The Secret Life of a Slummy Mummy, she's a pioneer of ''mummy lit,'' a genre for parents who dream of upgrading from ''slummy'' (think Roseanne Conner) to ''yummy'' (e.g., Martha Stewart). And her latest work feels no less aspirational.
Set during the 2008--09 recession, What the Nanny Saw should be a cautionary tale. It begins on a terrible day for millionaire banker Nick Skinner, his PR-mogul wife, Bryony, and their kids. The couple have just been linked to a major financial scandal, and as the press closes in, they're trapped in their London estate with their nanny, Ali, who must decide whether to stand by them. From there, Ali flashes back to her first day with the Skinners, looking for clues as to what went wrong. But from the moment Bryony mentions that Elton John will be dropping by their dinner party, it's clear that the mystery of whodunit and why isn't really the main draw here. There's much more to relish in the details observed by Ali, from the Skinners' favorite canapès (potted brown shrimps with lemon crème fraîche) to their posh travel spots (Greek beach Agios Stefanos). Neill's descriptions of these luxuries are so tantalizing, she makes the Skinners far more sympathetic than Ali, who obnoxiously corrects Nick about literature and gets flirty with his son Jake. By the end, it's as if the Skinners' greed weren't all that bad. I'd argue that this is a morally dubious stance for any author, but my mouth is too full of crème fraîche. B