‘The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds.’ The chilling opening line of this hugely hyped thriller about a killer nanny leaves you in no doubt about its horrific ending. And this horrible premise certainly doesn’t make for an easy read. Touted as the next Gone Girl, the first of Leila Slimani’s novels to be translated into English and winner of the prestigious French literary prize, The Prix Goncourt, does Lullaby (American title – The Perfect Nanny) deserve the hype?
If you can cope with the disturbing subject matter, then it’s certainly an incredibly gripping page-turner. I started it last night and finished it in one sitting. And thanks to its tight, clipped and thoughtful prose, Lullaby stands out from the glut of edgy domestic thrillers being rapidly churned out by publishers hoping to capitalise on the current popularity of psychological suspense novels.
The novel focuses on the story of Myriam, a young, brilliant French-Moroccan lawyer who decides to return to work after having two children, and is forced to look for the perfect nanny. She and her husband Paul find Louise, who seems to be practically perfect in every way: quiet, polite and devoted to their children as well as happy to spend hours cleaning their chic apartment in Paris’s up and coming tenth arrondissement. Louise stays late out of choice and even offers to cook the family delicious, nutritious meals.
Myriam, Paul and Louise become increasingly more dependent on each other as their lives become unhealthily intertwined. As jealously, resentment and suspicions increase, Myriam and Paul’s idyllic tableau of family life is violently shattered. Slimani explores issues of power, class, race and motherhood in this compulsive, pressure-cooker of a read.
My only criticism is that the conclusion is rather rushed and the reader is left wanting more closure on the horrific, harrowing ending. A tough, haunting read, Lullaby is every parent’s worst nightmare. No doubt the film rights have already been snapped up and a Hollywood blockbuster is in the offing.
Lullaby is published by Faber & Faber, 224 pages.