When I hear that a book is a must-read, international bestseller I always worry that it is not going to live up to its hype. However Lullaby by Leïla Slimani does not disappoint, it does more than that, it actually exceeds the hype.
Firstly if you are the parent of small children, looking for a nanny or au pair then this book is not for you as it will terrify you. I, who over the years of bringing up four children, could relate to some of what was written. Sometimes a really good nanny is too good to be true and there can be a hidden flaw. It is a complex relationship – parent/child/nanny – and one that needs a lot of input if it is to work satisfactorily.
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…
We know what happens from the beginning of the book however the story is still compelling and gripping and I read it in one sitting. The writing is better than a straight psychological thriller, as it is often described in reviews, as it is more insightful and perceptive. There is an underlying social sensitivity which is more profound than other thrillers.
To give the ending of the story at the beginning is a risk for the author however it is one that pays off as the focus is then on the what if? It is here that the writing excels as it draws you in and you are exasperated as you believe that you can change the outcome. Every page you turn you hope, beyond any reason, that the parents will see the light and realise where this is heading. Is this not a brilliant achievement by an author to keep you enthralled even when you know the outcome?
This book is every young parent’s worst nightmare. I felt despair and desperation at the mental deterioration of Louise, the nanny. I did not feel judgemental, as many readers have, at the inadequacies of the middle class parents. It is one of the most distressing and tragic books that I have read in a long time.
Lullaby by Leïla Slimani was translated from French to English but I only found that out after I had finished reading it and, unlike other translated books, I felt there was nothing lost in translation. So far this book is the winner of the Prix Goncourt but I am sure that there are going to be many more awards in the pipeline.
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