Diane Leslie •
Fleur de Leigh’s Life of Crime •
Eleven-year-old Fleur’s only “crime” lies in being born to parents who treat her as an object to be manipulated to their advantage. Charmian and Maurice—their very names evoking brittle, insubstantial elegance—are so wrapped up in their show-business careers that they have no time or interest to spare for a daughter.
When Fleur sets up a lemonade stand à la Hollywood, catering to thirsty tourists en route to stars’ homes, her father charges her overhead. And when she dares ask why her mother doesn’t listen to her, Charmian replies, “Because you’re just my little girl. I’m not on the job.” Even Fleur’s birth announcement mimics the style of a press release for a new film.
Much as English history is divided into the reigns of monarchs, each chapter is devoted to one in the disastrous succession of nannies hired to look after Fleur, their tenures ranging from a single day to several months. One is a shoplifter, another a lunatic who has to be carried off in a straitjacket. Fleur grows attached to the warmer-hearted nannies, especially Grandma Glo—the real-life grandmother she never knew she had—and an erstwhile movie queen whose devoted servant she becomes. But none of them survive the Leigh household longer than half a year.
Not surprising that on visiting an orphanage, Fleur expresses envy. “The people who work here must really like kids,” she bursts out. “I wish I were an orphan.” The orphans agree: “It’s tons better living here than living with people who didn’t want you in the first place.”
Even so, Fleur’s unhappy life is shot through with sly humor. Watching from upstairs as her mother seduces a policeman, she observes, “Charmian’s pretty, heart-shaped backside appeared to be waving at me, or just waving indiscriminately, with glee.”