Review: Lullaby by Leila Slimani

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“The baby is dead, It only took a few seconds.”

Genre: Domestic thriller

Similar to: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Could be enjoyed by: The happily child free (the book hits very close to home)

Publication date: 18th August 2016

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge #10 Read a translated book written by and/or translated by a woman.

I’d heard a lot about Lullaby from various different sources; what with it being the genre-du-jour (domestic thriller) and the winner of the Prix Goncourt there seemed to be a lot of buzz about it. So when I saw it in the library I couldn’t wait to start reading it – and I can honestly say that the book is well deserving of the hype.

Myriam, a French-Moroccan lawyer, is the mother of two children. Her and her husband Paul vowed not to let the kids dictate their lives but since becoming a parent Myriam has struggled with her role as stay-at-home-mum. She decides to return to work and employs Louise, a seemingly Mary-Poppins-perfect nanny. Louise is all the things that Myriam isnt; a great cook, a calm and efficient caregiver, a neat and tidy individual who leaves the apartment looking better than it ever has. But as Louise works her way further and further into Myriam and Paul’s lives, they slowly realise that no-one is perfect…

I’ve just finished reading Lullaby and I honestly couldn’t put it down. The book is super tense – claustrophobic even, written in an unusual style (you know what happens in the first few pages; the narrative then goes back to examine the events that led up to it). Even though the characters are all horrible people, you get completely drawn into their lives and I spent the whole book trying to psychologically profile them and even apportioning blame (which is a terrible, judgemental thing to do, even to fictional characters). But that’s part of the book’s charm – it forces you to look at the judgement surrounding child-rearing and it magnifies each and every lazy stereotype that we have of the clueless father, the selfish career woman, the stay-at-home mum, the immigrant domestic help, the borgeoise children, the educated liberal elite… I could go on.

I loved the different cultural norms that were explored, especially in relation to race and social status and I think that perspective could have only been written so sensitively by an author of colour. For example, at one point Myriam states that she doesn’t want to hire a nanny with the same heritage as her because their shared culture and language would create an uncomfortable intimacy. Whilst I can understand this on some level – I guess it’s a bit like employing your friends – I would never have considered the tension that this could create and blithely assumed that Myriam would want her children to be as entrenched in their dual heritage as possible. That’s another of my lazy assumptions challenged!

I listened to a podcast where Lullaby was being discussed and one of the contributors said that she had to DNF the book because it hit too close to home. I can completely understand that – the book is an exploration of imperfect family life, guilt about not being a good enough mother and having the worst thing that can happen to you actually happen – in graphic detail – so it obviously hits quite a lot of sensitive areas. There’s no doubting that it’s a disturbing read. Several scenes made my skin crawl and as Myriam starts to see Louise in a new light I could viscerally feel her revulsion.

The ending is not for everyone but I enjoyed the open-ended finish. Again, you’re left to draw your own conclusions and I appreciated not having any kind of moral judgement or explanation foisted upon me.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Lullaby and would recommend it to anyone looking for a fast paced domestic thriller – as long as they had a strong stomach.

 

Four “The chicken carcass scene will haunt me forever”s out of five.

Thrillingly fast paced, enthralling but with just the right amount of disturbing imagery, Lullaby is a fantastic read.   

 

 

 

9 thoughts on “Review: Lullaby by Leila Slimani

  1. I’m leaning toward reading this despite the content warning. The author seems like she has a really good grasp of her subject matters and how to thread the needle in writing some dark stuff and get you thinking. So I think it will upset me but in a way that books like this should if that makes any sense…? Thanks for the detailed review. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally get what you mean. I thought it was very well written and there’s no graphic murder scene, just a creeping sense of unease so it really unsettles you rather than causes full on upset/disgust.

      Like

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