Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Lullaby Book Review #MNBookClub

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

Lullaby by Leila Slimani is a dark and unnerving book. The French-Moroccan author's spine-tingling novel won the Prix Goncourt. The main characters are Myriam and Paul and also their nanny Louise. There are two children, a young girl Mila and a baby Adam. The opening pages of the book describe the murder of both children and the attempted suicide of the nanny. It's a dark and chilling beginning to the story and the rest of the book is spent picking through trying to find a motive, and giving a background to all of the characters.

Myriam has suffered from post-natal depression, struggling with her new role as a mother and feeling like she has lost her identity. Myriam returns to work as a lawyer with long hours whilst she pushes to become a partner in the law firm. Her husband Paul works as a recording artist and also often works long hours. When Myriam makes the decision to return to work, they realise that it will only be possible if they have a nanny. They then employ Louise, whose previous employer gives her an incredibly good reference.

Lullaby Leila Slimani

As a parent, it's hard to understand how easily Myriam and Paul take on the nanny with only one reference. They do not know much about her and absolutely nothing about her personal background. Whilst she ends up going on holiday with them, she very rarely lets anything intimate about her past. I understand the pull of returning to work for Myriam, and the feeling of wanting to do well for her children by helping her own mental health and gaining confidence in herself. It's easy to see how the family become so reliant on Louise, she seems to good to be true, and cooks and cleans as well as looking after the children.

Louise lives in relative poverty in a small room in a run down area. Even her shower is falling apart and she often has to wash just in her sink. In contrast, Myriam and Paul live in an affluent area and enjoy entertaining friends, drinking good wine and going on holidays. The differences between the two families is huge, although only Louise realises this, as Paul and Myriam know so little about their nanny they don't even know where she lives.

Slimani writes incredibly well. The tension builds with clues sprinkled throughout as to why Louise might have killed the children. Some of these clues are incredibly distressing and you are left with an increasing sense of dread. The book is incredibly well-written and Slimani manages to portray the socio-economic deprivation of Louise's life. She is a very damaged person, she is fragile and irrational. It's deeply disturbing to read her past and find out her history.

The Perfect Nanny

I found the end of the book rather frustrating. I wanted to know that Louise was sorry for what she had done, but her character remains uninterpretable throughout the book. At the end of the book we are told of Louise that “Her heart has grown hard. The years have covered it in a thick, cold rind and she can barely hear it beating. Nothing moves her any more.”. She's a character without the answers you crave during the book. I didn't feel that I understood her motive for killing the children, although perhaps there wouldn't ever be an understandable reason for such an act. The book is an excellent commentary on motherhood, class, race, gender and politics. It left me feeling shaken and mildly disturbed at what I had read. However frustrating I found the ending, it is amazing that a book can leave you feeling like that!

Disclosure: I received this book as part of the Mumsnet Book Club. All opinions are my own.

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