Review | LULLABY by Leïla Slimani


I don't know why I keep reading psychological thrillers, guys.

This short novel about a 'killer nanny' (hey, someone at the publisher decided to put that quote on the back) is set in Paris. Myriam and Paul, a young couple with two children, decide to make the financial sacrifice and employ a nanny, so Myriam can go back to her work as a lawyer. They find Louise, a fragile-looking white woman in her forties, who seems to be the perfect Mary Poppins: the children love her, the house is always spotless, and her food is the centre of dinner parties.
Until one day, Louise murders both children.

So far, so intriguing.

If I had one piece of advice to give about this book, it would be to read it in one sitting. It's short enough at just a little over 200 pages, and the suspense is drawn so tightly over the plot that I don't recommend breaking it up, which was the mistake I made.

While the book touches on the inner lives of Paul and Myriam in a neutral kind of way that makes them seem human (if not people you want to be friends with), the main focus is Louise. As the story goes on we learn about her past in snippets, although the most interesting chapters are certainly told from her daughter's perspective, Stéphanie. Now that I think of it, I would have preferred a book about Stéphanie.

But we're stuck with her mother, a woman who doesn't belong into the world she has made herself fit into. As Louise burrows herself further into the family's life, they become her only reason to wake up, yet at the same time she is unable to relate to them. Not only is she 'the nanny'; but her background, we learn, is so vastly different to theirs that they seem to exist on a whole different level where neither can reach out to the other, no matter how closely they live together.

Solitude was like a vast hole into which Louise watched herself sink. Solitude, which stuck to her flesh, to her clothes, began to model her features, making her move like a little old lady. Solitude leapt at her face at dusk, when night fell and the sounds of family lives rose from the surrounding houses. The light dimmed and the murmur grew louder: laughter, panting, even sighs of boredom. (p.86)

I'm here for any book that captures loneliness well, and Lullaby does this. What it doesn't do is draw me in and make me care about any of the characters, and I can't quite pinpoint why that is. The arrangement of chapters feels random at times, and the murder that sells the book seems almost irrelevant as the narratives goes to describe – not explain – Louise. The suspense, which gradually builds throughout the story, stacking up like a house of cards with some beautifully chilling moments, stumbles towards the end and collapses into a sad heap. I found the ending so unsatisfying I actually wondered whether I had checked out momentarily while reading it; I felt disoriented, like I'd missed something.

I don't know if it's the book or the genre, but I always feel bad when I read a psychological thriller and think, I've seen this before. I've read this before. I end up disappointed almost every time. Lullaby is no different, and I don't know if it's worth the hype.

Author: Leïla Slimani, translated from the French by Sam Taylor
Publisher: Faber&Faber
Publication date: 11th January 2018
Rating: 3/5