Leila Slimani (2018) Lullaby, translated by Sam Taylor.
Lullaby, the bestseller and Prix Concourt, winner, written by Liela Slimani, sticks the ending at the beginning. I got to page 65, before giving up. I couldn’t shake the thought that I’d turned my back and that it had been written by software programme as nearly all books will in the future.
The baby is dead. It took only a few seconds…The little girl was still alive when the ambulance arrived…Eyes bulging, she seemed to be gasping for air. Her throat was filled by blood. Her lungs had been punctured, her head smashed violently against the blue chest of drawers.
The culprit, the nanny, is still alive, Myriam, the mother of the children, is in a state of shock. She lets out ‘a howl of a she-wolf’. Maybe something lost in translation. Cliched. What is left is backstory.
Here we have it, the set-up. Myriam and Paul have a nice little apartment on Rue d’Hauteville in Paris’s tenth arrondissement. Both are lawyers. Paul works in the music industry and Myriam has taken a break from her career –which never really started, pregnant at law school – to bring up their two children. Adam who is a baby, and Mila, eighteen-months older, a tot with tantrum issues.
They would like their children to go to nursery, but complain they haven’t the political connections in city hall, and they aren’t poor enough to get subsidised child care. In other words they’re upper middle-class and the poor are slackers.
In order to make the middle-class, more working-class, Myriam channels her frustration with bouts of kleptomania. She’s already rehearsed what she will say, she simply the forgot about the pair of socks, or whatever else she’s stolen, because she’s a harassed and muddled, mother. Not being a slacker, she decides she wants to go back to work. Then she bumps into Pascal, with whom she went to law school.
Voila. Pascal offers her a job. Here we have a floating point of view and see Myriam through Pascal’s eyes. Lazy narration.
Myriam and Paul need a childminder. They agree that they are poor and can’t really afford to pay much and ‘No illegal immigrants’.
Myriam approaches an agency that hires out nannies. Again we have that floating point of view. Myriam is snapped at by the boutique owner because she looks dowdy, with untended curly hair and here’s a corker, she can speak Arabic. She’s one of them that should really be living in the banlieues. That floored me for a second.
But here we are back with Myriam and she needs a nanny, but not like her, one that does live in the banlieues. Even a Filipino or African, she was not racist. As long as the nanny was cheap and Paul agreed. He’d need to be won over.
Now we are in Louise’s apartment. She does live in a studio apartment in the banlieue. She’s not Filipino or African and she’s so organised the window she looks through hurts from being over cleaned. Her references are impeccable. We later find out she has a daughter.
Slowly, Louise moves herself spider-like into the centre of Myriam, Paul, Adam and Mila’s myriad lives. She cooks, she cleans, she does everything they ask of her and more. Louise, aged forty, looks twenty, she is a dream come true.
The question of why she kills the kids? Dit moi. I don’t care.