Leila Slimani – Lullaby


Usually my standout reads occur towards February but I guess I was lucky and my first great read was the second book I picked up this year.

First of all ignore the tags such as the new Gone Girl, Lullaby is nothing like that. Lullaby tackles a lot of topics under the guise of a brutal murder which happens within the first chapter.

With this murder Slimani has probably pulled the greatest macguffin ever. Upon reading the gruesome first chapter, the reader is fooled into thinking that the rest of the book is about the murder itself, but Lullaby is not about that.

Instead Lullaby is about French attitudes towards migrants. The book itself is about a Moroccan lawyer, Myriam, who needs to find a nanny for her children. She is warned about hiring a foreigner as is common practice. Throughout the book foreigners and  migrants are treated disdainfully and resort to hanging out in a park in order to be hired as a nanny. The main protagonist, Myriam, as mentioned, is a foreigner so she has to convince people that she is a good lawyer and works harder than her working partner.

The other theme is gender equality. As the novel progresses the reader gets a glimpse into Louise, the nanny’s background, and she is a victim of psychological abuse from all the males she encounters in her life. Her first husband Jacques, the landlord of her dingy flat , Myriam’s husband and the new partner she finds. Slimani hints that this may contribute to the murder but really it’s a jab at male superiority.

Mental illness is one of the main themes as well. Louise suffers from depression due to her past; she gives birth to a child who eventually abandons her, thus making Louise suffer from severe loneliness AND a lust for Myriam and her husband Paul to have another child so that she can take care of it (or if you’re cynical to stay employed) and despite her schemes both Paul and Myriam do not plan on having a child, which drives Louise crazy and may be the biggest contributor to her killing both children and attempting suicide.

Slimani is not clear about the actual motive because Lullaby is not a crime novel but the way she delves into the above themes I mentioned to such depth that her characters are rendered as complex humans, especially Louise and Myriam. I find it rare that in a 200 page novel Slimani manages to create a handful of unforgettable characters.

Lullaby is not just a story but it is representative of the current world situation: there is racial hatred despite attempts at tolerance, sexism is still rampant and I think Slimani’s  descriptions of Louise are both shocking and sympathetic for the reader. It is no surprise that this multi-layered novel won the Prix Goncourt. A brilliant novel.