By Leïla Slimani
Published by Faber & Faber (4 January 2018)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher.
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...
I had read a lot of mixed views about Lullaby on social media before I started reading it. This is certainly a book that provokes a lot of discussion. I dived in without reading the blurb or any other reviews, determined to read it with an open mind.
Lullaby is an uncomfortable read about an ambitious couple's fragile relationship with their seemingly-perfect nanny. Myriam and Paul rely on Louise to not only look after their young children but also to keep their whole household flowing smoothly. Louise relies on them for her wages. She makes herself indispensable to make sure the family are unlikely to ever let her go - after all, how would they cope without her?
Yet despite spending so much time together, there is a distance between the adults - fuelled by the class divide, poverty versus privilege and the 'us and them' approach. You know from the start that there's no happy ending. In fact quite the opposite. But what makes a conscientious nanny turn on the children in her care?
Lullaby is a short book at only 207 pages but packs a serious punch with its taut sparse prose. The translation is brilliant and the writing flows so smoothly that I found myself reading passages out loud to myself, savouring the natural rhythm of the words. Yet while the style is chatty, the narrative is distanced from the characters, as if the reader is watching their lives through a camera lens. This creates a chilling, disturbing account of a household in crisis, spiralling all the way to disaster.
Lullaby plays on parents' darkest fears and I felt that it read like 'true crime/non-fiction' in places, making it seem very real. The book left me cold, with so many thoughts bounding around in my head and goosebumps up my arms.
Did I enjoy it? Yes, even though I don't feel I should have enjoyed it at all, due to the subject matter. Would I recommend it? Definitely. But maybe not to stressed working parents who rely heavily on their nanny.