Saturday, June 12, 2010

Book Review: Do Try to Speak As We Do

Do Try to Speak As We Do: The Diary of an American Au Pair: A Novel The Diary of an American Au Pair: A Novel by Marjorie Leet Ford

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"The Nanny Diaries" in the UK, Do Try to Speak As We Do is about a milktoast of a young woman, Melissa, who takes on a job as an au pair in Britain, sight unseen.

It's generally known that au pairs are abused and less regulated than nannies. They also tend to be less experienced.

Melissa expected England and Scotland to be right off the screen of a Merchant Ivory film and was gravely disappointed to meet her snobby and verbally abusive employer, Mrs. Haig-Ereildoun. She has three charges: Pru, Trevor, and 3-year-old Claire, who happens to be deaf.

A few things about this book bothered me:

1. I had a hard time getting past the completely dorky name of her boyfriend, Tedward. I also couldn't understand what she saw in him (or Simon, for that matter!) and also why she called off the wedding.

2. The time sequencing seemed off. Ford was an au pair in the UK herself when she was much younger, but this book seemed to have a more modern setting but also seemed outdated in other ways.

3. I found the character development to be lacking--specifically "Tedward," Simon, and the Haig-Ereildouns. This might be because the novel was written in first person. Mrs. Haig-Ereildoun was entirely one-dimensional: she didn't have any redeeming qualities at all.

4. It bothered me that no one seemed to feel it was important for Claire to learn sign language--on the contrary in fact. In fact, they seemed to treat Claire as if she were less of a person because she was deaf. This seems like very outdated thinking to me...and an attitude leading to a lifetime of isolation. Is this what Ford really believes about the deaf? That they shouldn't be taught sign language?

As an American married to an Englishman, some of the bits I found the inane rules of British banking, believed importance of sending one's children to private (public) schools, snobbiness about anything American, fondness for cold toast and runny eggs, and fact that doctors don't earn much money in the UK, among other things.

On the other hand, the British do not come out of this book very well. Doormat Melissa's employers and others walked all over her. Just about the only British people who were at all appealing were hired help or children.

I got tired of Melissa's lack of drive or motivation to stand up for herself. I'm vacillating between 2 and 3 stars (such a momentous decision!!), but I think I'd give it 2-1/2 stars if I could, because I was ready for the book to be over when I was 3/4 of the way through, and that's not a good sign. It also might be why I've never seen this book in the press.

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