What is this about?: There is no question about the who, rather the question in this book is about the why: why did the perfect nanny kill her two charges?
What else is this about?: Parents and nannies. Children and nannies. It’s about a mother who wants to return to work, and needs a nanny to help, a father who has no idea of what his wife is going through – and a nanny who is absolutely perfect and absolutely imperfect at the same time.
She has the keys to their apartment. She knows everything. She has embedded herself so deeply in their lives that it now seems impossible to remove her.
When Myriam, a French-Moroccan lawyer, decides to return to work after having children, she and her husband look for the perfect nanny for their two young children. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite, devoted woman who sings to the children, cleans the family’s chic apartment in Paris’s upscale tenth arrondissement, stays late without complaint, and hosts enviable kiddie parties. But as the couple and the nanny become more dependent on one another, jealousy, resentment, and suspicions mount, shattering the idyllic tableau. Building tension with every page, The Perfect Nanny is a compulsive, riveting, bravely observed exploration of power, class, race, domesticity, and motherhood—and the American debut of an immensely talented writer.
The #1 international bestseller and winner of France’s most prestigious literary prize, the Goncourt.
The thing that strikes me immediately about Lullaby is the stark writing, even in translation. Especially in translation.
Some books that are translated can come across as clumsy in English, with the words we are familiar with too clunky to be able to convey the situation the characters find themselves in. But in Lullaby, every word has its place, like the very first two lines of the book printed there on the cover. Slimani lays all her characters bare in her writing, and that makes it all the easier to understand them – Myriam, the mother, especially.
The book explores Myriam and Paul, a young couple when they have Mila, their daughter and then Adam before Louise comes into their life. Myriam wants to be a good mother, the kind of mother who stays at home and is wrapped up in her children’s world. But, eventually she has to admit she needs more, and more importantly she wants more than that for herself. Paul doesn’t understand why, and he is a bit self-absorbed I think. He is perhaps a character that could have been explored more even though the author’s focus is mothers, nannies and the children between them.
The couple starts to look for nannies, until they find Louise, who is perfect. The children love her, the parents love her and every soon this little family of four can’t do without her. Louise herself is portrayed as a loving woman before Slimani starts to peel her back, revealing her past, and even some of her present and you begin to realise that there is more to her than anyone initially thought.
The author wrote this story based on her own experiences with her nanny, and the uncomfortable truths that she realised because of it. For instance, the family in the book goes on holiday and takes Louise along as a thank you, but really she’s there to take care of the kids.
Myriam enjoys her work, but is also guilty for missing her kids at night. There are times when she comes home, eager to put them to bed or to spend time with them, but Louise has already done everything she wants. Then there are times she’s grateful for Louise cleaning up and cooking dinner – for her family and for their friends when they host dinner parties. That they found Louise, who is the perfect nanny, who cleans and cooks dinners their friends are envious of becomes something to be proud of. Slimani gives readers much to understand about Myriam and Paul, as much as she explores the things we prefer not to think about in situations like this.
Even though you start the book knowing who Louise is, and what she’s done, as the book continues, there is no doubt that Louise adores Mila and Adam. She is patient and loving towards them, and they clearly adore her. But Slimani begins to reveal her past, and her present in some ways and if you think you know where this story is going, it’s not. You begin to understand why Louise has devoted herself to being a nanny, why her focus is on the family and the children she cares for, and it really is sad.
As to the why – it’d be easy if there was an explicit reason as to why Louise killed these kids, but I think this is a book that is supposed to leave you uneasy long after you’ve finished.