Lullaby

Leila Slimani

The baby is dead. It took only a few seconds. When Myriam, a brilliant lawyer, decides to return to work, she and her husband look for a nanny for their two young children. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite and devoted woman who sings to their children, cleans the family's chic Paris apartment, stays late without complaint and hosts enviable birthday parties. But as the couple and their nanny become more and more dependent on each other, jealousy, resentment and suspicions increase, until Myriam and Paul's idyllic domesticity is shattered.

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A story about a nanny who works for a successful professional couple in Paris. They trust her. They cannot imagine how they coped without her. But then there’s a brutal, shocking murder. Brilliant. A must-read.

Judy writes:

Psychological thrillers about nannies are always powerful. All parents who work and need child care secretly worry about the person with whom they are leaving their most precious possession of all. Mothers in particular never really lose that sense of anxiety or powerlessness about leaving their baby in the care of someone else.

Is that nice girl you interviewed really as capable as she seems? Does she genuinely like your child/children? Is she truly responsible and caring?

You never really know for sure, and no matter how hard you try to bury your fears (you have, after all, got to work or the mortgage won’t get paid), that familiar, knowing dread always lurks in your gut. What if? What if something terrible happens while your kids are on a comparative stranger’s watch?

Well, that’s what Lullaby is about. Myriam and Paul are a successful, prosperous middle-class couple living in a smart flat in Paris. They have two small children in quick succession. Like so many clever, professional women, Myriam (she’s a lawyer, passionate about her career) finds being a stay-at-home-mum deeply frustrating. When she gets an offer to return to legal work, she leaps at it. But first, she must find a nanny.

Myriam finds Louise, a widow, who seems to be the perfect Mary Poppins. She’s neat, tidy, modestly-dressed, and fastidious. She has an extraordinary ability to entertain children and soon becomes indispensable to the family. Unlike many nannies she is perfectly happy to do housework and cleaning. Needless to say, Myriam and Paul think she’s wonderful.

Richard writes:

But Louise isn’t wonderful. Not at all. In fact, she’s a murderess, pure and simple.

Don’t worry – that’s not a spoiler, because we know from page one that Louise has killed both these tiny children in her care, in the most brutal, bloody, and horrific way.

Why? Why and how did Mary Poppins turn into Myra Hindley? That’s what this suspenseful and taughtly-written book tries to find out.

Lullaby is not simply another thriller about a killer nanny. What we discover about Louise is a story of social isolation and dire economic hardship, a life so deprived of love, family and any sense of belonging that she finally tips over the edge of sanity.

Slimani’s Paris is a mean, harsh city, corroded by racial and sexual exploitation. Louise (like the author) is French-Moroccan and Slimani paints a picture of a city where childcare workers are frequently immigrants, neglected, despairing, and relegated to a social underclass.

Louise desperately wants to become an integral part of Myriam and Paul’s family. She wants to ‘dig herself a niche, a burrow, a warm hiding place’ within her employers’ well-heeled world. Her sense of utter isolation derives from race and class. Myriam and Paul are good liberals with a conscience and try hard to involve their nanny in their lives – even taking her on holiday with them. They are anxious not to appear superior to Louise; to regard her as ‘one of us’.

But of course she’s not and never will be part of their privileged Parisian circle of friends and associates. She’s an outsider, and her isolation eventually drives her crazy.

This is a hugely compelling novel, relentless in its descriptions of how disorientated and neglected certain sections of our prosperous society really are.

As for mums and dads: well, this is a frightening but essential read. If only to keep you on your guard.

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