book review: leïla slimani’s “lullaby”

Posted: April 20, 2019 in books etc., Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
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image: youtube / slimani reading

Lullaby is the song which puts you to sleep, lose awareness, become unconscious. Its layered meaning is fully exploited by Leïla Slimani in “Lullaby,” also known by the titles “Chanson douce” and “The Perfect Nanny.” The novel begins at the end. And then it starts again, innocently enough, a child-like quality to its simple sentences told in the present tense. The steady rhythm of the sentences lull the reader to sleep, even as the novel, not so much picks up pace, but intensifies as it shifts from one point of view to the other, reconstructing lives, getting under the skin of characters.

Myriam and Paul are just another couple in Paris. Both are ambitious and both love their children, Mila and Adam. Myriam’s ambition leads her to return to work as a lawyer and the couple decide, not without apprehension, to hire a nanny for their children. Louise is the nanny of dreams, doll-like with immense strength, with her Peter Pan collar and varnished fingernails, descriptions which Slimani repeats. It is this too-good-to-be-trueness that heightens a sense of foreboding. Soon cracks – at times, vicious and at times, pitiful – begin to appear. But when things are convenient, red flags are ignored and justified, which is precisely what Myriam does.

Slimani unearths many underlying tensions in the situation: complexities of motherhood, conflicts of a working mother, loneliness, how nannies are treated, confused intimacies, and the final spiral into darkness. In the end, everyone stands guilty.

© Anuradha Prasad 2019

(also here!)

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