THE PLOT: Lullaby by Leïla Slimani is about a nanny living in Paris. The novel starts with the nanny, Louise, having murdered the two young children she is paid to look after. It then goes backwards in time to explain how she came to be employed by this French-Moroccan family, her relationship with the parents, and her life before she moved to Paris.
RATING: This dark, brooding psychological novel gets four stars from me. It’s very claustrophobic as it depicts the mental state of a killer, but this is what makes it completely compelling. Translated into English from French, the author has won the prestigious Prix Goncourt, which is clearly well deserved.
GOOD BITS: The sparse writing style perfectly suited my tastes. Through the short, clear sentences we get a realistic, not overly poetic description of the liminal relationship between nanny and family – someone who is an outsider yet invited into the heart of the home. This commentary on modern day motherhood in Paris captures the intricacies of how the family interacted with their ‘perfect’ nanny. Despite the subject matter, there is very little right and wrong in this novel – only relationships between humans.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: The first act is mostly about the mother, Myriam, and I wished the novel returned to her at the end. I wanted an extra thirty pages to deal with the aftermath of the murders and finished this book without much satisfaction. In hindsight, I almost think this book could’ve had two concurrent narratives – the events leading up to the killing (told in reverse) and the aftermath of the deaths (told linearly through the alluded to court case). Essentially, I wanted a bit more about why and how the murders took place.
Also, a dual narrative could’ve brought in more about Louise’s upbringing, providing additional background for the murders and (potentially) more gratification for the reader.
OVERALL: If you like introspective, psychological novels, this is one for you. Although it’s been billed as a thriller, I think lovers of that genre (or police detective whydunnits) may be disappointed as it’s quite slow and insular. It’s more of an emotional portrait of how this woman came to be a murderer, than a hunt for the facts of why and how and who. However, I raced through it and think many others will too.