Lullaby (Leïla Slimani, translated by Sam Taylor)

The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds.


I feel I need to write a little context around reading Lullaby. I picked it up off my work book shelf before the Christmas holiday, and I then left it a while. I picked it up when I got home from work, and (because it isn’t very long) I saw and read it in one sitting. I was really tired, and I’m also feeling a little unwell at the moment. I’m not sure tired, and fuzzy-headed is the best way to read this book. I do, however, recommend you read it in one go.

Title: Lullaby
Author: Leïla Slimani
Published: 2016
Pages: 207
Format: Paperback (Work Shelf)

This book is the English translation of a novel that won the prestigious French award, the Prix Goncourt. It’s a psychological thriller about a nanny (Louise) who arrives to take care of the children of French-Moroccan lawyer Myriam and her husband Paul when Myriam decides to return to work. What starts out as the perfect situation, with the perfect nanny, descends into co-dependence, resentment and suspicion. Louise is seemingly perfect. She is quiet, polite, and she makes great dinners and sings to the children. But things aren’t perfect.

The plot is primarily about the disparity between classes and resentment. While Myriam and Paul are not super well off, they can afford a nanny. Louise is practically destitute. The characters are not likable at all, they are all flawed and problematic in some way or another, and the point of view switches between the main characters, and a few side characters. Its generally quite clear who is speaking, but it feels quite impersonal, even as these characters are exposing their thoughts onto the page – It may have been because I was so tired (I should have chosen a familiar romance instead of a thriller, I just picked up the next book on the pile). I felt like a spectator, like I was being given harsh facts about humanity and being asked to draw my own conclusions. It was hard to put down, I had to keep reading, but I honestly couldn’t tell you why.

The narrative follows the day to day living of these characters and their relationships, and then suddenly there is something that doesn’t seem right – you dismiss it and carry on, but the book is littered with these little This Doesn’t Seem Right, but you are never spoon fed the ending, and actually, I may have been too tired to work out what it was or leading too (Or the point is to draw your own conclusions, like we are the jury) but even by the end I was still sat there going “but why did she kill the children??”.

It’s hard to describe how, but this novel is incredibly engaging. You want to know why, how does this lead in, how does that? At the same time, it’s claustrophobic, unsettling, criticisms of class and the resentments that build between people. It’s really ambiguous, and creepy and offers a critical commentary on privilege and child-rearing (specifically in France). The descriptions are horrific (and not just the murder scene) and the detached narrative is a unsettling. And even after I had closed the book, I felt unsettled and confused.

I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about this book. On the one hand I felt massively unsettled and a little claustrophobic while reading – but I imagine that is to echo how Louise feels. At the same time, I am still curious, the riddle hasn’t quite been solved and I feel a bit like I’m stuck in limbo.


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