Author: Leïla Slimani
Translator: Sam Taylor
Publisher: Faber & Faber
When Myriam, a French-Moroccan lawyer, decides to return to work after having children, she and her husband look for the perfect caretaker for their two young children. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite and devoted woman who sings to their children, cleans the family’s chic apartment in Paris’s upscale tenth arrondissement, stays late without complaint and is able to host enviable birthday parties.
The couple and nanny become more dependent on each other. But as jealousy, resentment and suspicions increase, Myriam and Paul’s idyllic tableau is shattered…
Lullaby is a chilling, atmospheric novel that is primarily about a nanny who murders the children she is looking after, but is really an intense but slow-burning story of Louise the nanny and the family she is absorbed into – parents Myriam and Paul and their two young children (all based in Paris).
The book is short but intense; at under 200 pages the writing – a translation from the original French to English – read, for me, beautifully. The sentences flowed well and it was enjoyable to read, without excessive descriptive or flowery language.
Louise is an interesting character; the author creates a vivid portrait of her and her rather mysterious but isolated life, and as we learn more about her you can feel the alarm bells start to go off. All the characters are interesring – with Myriam and Paul’s faults as clearly portrayed as others, meaning the reader can sort of empathise with why other people might find them frustrating. They are an interesting family; from the beginning we get an insight into Myriam’s judgemental view of certain groups of people, and it certainly didn’t make me warm to her! To me, they felt like an an almost repulsive family, representing some of the worst qualities of priveleged people, and this only adds to the tension.
The story itself, although dark and horrific at times, doesn’t actually feature a huge amount of ‘action’ as such. A lot of what takes place in it is fairly slow and mundane, but Slimani manages to build up the tension well, slowly elevating the situation for a little odd to really disturbing. There’s plenty of references to important topics such as domestic violence, debt, racism, abuse and much more. The reader gets slowly drip-fed clues which indicate the direction the story is going (though we know an overarching storyline from the first few pages).
I didn’t realise before reading this that it’s actually based on a true story – apparently Leïla Slimani was inspired by a true story in the news about a nanny in New York murdering her charges Leo and Lucia Krim, ages 2 and 6, in 2012. This makes the plot even more shocking, and which goes some way to explaining the surprisingly abrupt ending (or so I thought, anyway). It felt like it was really building to something, and then all of a sudden ended, leaving me wanting to know more – about what exactly happened, of Louise’s life, and about some of the other characters (who are often introduced for a few pages and then not reviisted again after)…
I really enjoyed this beautifully written, atmospheric character study and, although I don’t think it necessarily fits in as a traditional ‘thriller’, it did keep me glued to its pages.
I read this a couple of years ago and remember feeling really tense!