Leila Slimani (2018) Lullaby, translated by Sam Taylor.


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.


This week – last week

peace in paris

This week I’m reading about the attack on Paris. I don’t need to tell you about it. The media is full of front-line news on continual loop. It’s got that feel of 9/11 about it, but closer to home.

Last week I was reading Reportage, Cemetery of Lost Souls, photographer Giles Duley on the Greek Island of Lesbos, where many refugees end up on the beach. Some die, as the image of the Syrian boy that went global show. Perhaps it softened Western European perceptions of refugees a little, and for a short time, but most live. On that day 3rd November 2015 an estimated 7000 men, women and children had landed. Two men and two children had drowned. An Afghan father, with baby in arms, tries to find a place to for his wife and child to sleep. Here we are in the familiar world. When the father asks at a local hotel for a place to stay it wouldn’t surprise us if he’s shown round the back to a stable and a couple of guys riding camels appear with gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh. That doesn’t happen. The proprietor explains there’s nowhere left. Families are sleeping where they fall and they can’t even offer blankets. The father’s response is poetic, ‘Touch me, am I not human too?’

The answer of course is he’s not. Shylock says much the same thing to Salerio in The Comical History of The Merchant of Venice (although I can’t say I see much comedy):

   I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die?

Solerio describes Shylock as, ‘A creature that did bear the shape of a man’. In the same way David Cameron, accidentally, on purpose, described refugees across the channel as ‘a swarm’. Swarms aren’t human, but something that needs to be contained. Shylock is a creature that is kicked, spat upon, and beaten. Shakespeare understood power. There’s been a shift in power and perceptions of what needs to be done. The disturbing news that Isis terrorists posed as refugees, at least one with a Syrian passport, passing through the Greek island of Leros in October and from there into mainland Europe, is a godsend to the far right. Overnight Angela Merkel and Germany’s humanitarian response to the movement of three million refugees is called into question, as is her leadership. Razor wire and border controls are the new real-politik. Poland’s new right-wing government have refused to play by the rules and take the 160 000 refugees that were to be re-located in their country as part of a pan-European agreement. As all those tens of thousands refugees hunker down in whatever shelter they can find tonight they will find that the Muslims are the new Jews. In this more bitter world, right-wing voices demands its pound of flesh. They will pay and keep paying, because what other choice do they have?