Friday, 23 February 2018

Book Review: Lullaby by Leila Slimani

Title: Lullaby

Author: Leila Slimani (tr. Sam Taylor)

Pages: 207 pages

Publication: 4th January 2018 by Faber Faber

1 line synopsis: the nanny killed the children, but why did she do it?


Winner of the French equivalent to the Man Booker, my hopes were high for this one and after reading the first page I knew I would enjoy. The book opens with a horrific but thrilling murder scene whereby the ending of the story we’re about to be sucked into is known to the reader, so rather than a whodunnit we have to discover why the nanny did it.

What I loved in particular about this book was the commentary on so many social issues. It made me think about the incredibly difficult position mothers are in: stay at home and sacrifice your career (and potentially your happiness) but be harangued by angry feminists who denounce you as giving in to misogyny, or return to work after having children and be deemed by society to be cold-hearted, unmotherly, and unnatural. I think this issue, and then the examination of the relationship between mother and nanny and children is incredibly well done in Lullaby, and it is definitely this that sticks with me most.

I also found it interesting how Slimani portrays Paris as incredibly bourgeois and incredibly unequal. I liked how Louise is the only white nanny in the group of nannies, and how the middle-class employer, Myriam, is a successful woman of colour and how Slimani analyses the relationship to race that she has when considering who to employ as a nanny for her children.

Having said all of that, I was a little disappointed by Lullaby, and I think a large part of that comes down to the translation. There were a few instances where I became incredibly aware of reading a piece of translated fiction and some words were just jarring, for example the use of ‘eliminate’ when referring to abortion, where I would expect to read ‘terminate’. Even if this was a correct translation, it brought me out of the reading experience more than I would have liked. Also, as a friend helped me discover, the ending doesn’t seem to match up with what is said in the beginning (if you think the same, or have an explanation, please let me know!).

Overall, I gave Lullaby 4 out of 5 stars. It is so interesting and has the elements of psychological suspense that I love, for example the huge insight into people’s minds and the reasoning behind their actions, but the awareness of the translation dampened the experience for me.

If you’ve read Lullaby, I would love to hear what you think about it, or if you plan on reading it in the future. For more of my book reviews, you can visit my book review catalogue.