“That morning, they went to the market together, all four of them. They bought flowers and now they are tidying up the apartment. They want to make a good impression on the nannies who will come here. They pick up the books and magazines that litter the floor and under their bed, and even in the bathroom. They fold the children’s clothes, change the sheets on their beds. They clean, throw stuff away, try desperately to air this stifling apartment. They want the nannies to see that they are good people; serious, orderly people who try to give their children the best of everything. The nannies must understand that Myriam and Paul are the ones in charge here.”
There is nothing like a good thriller. You settle in, curled up on the couch or stretched out, languidly, on your bed, and crack open the spine. You know you’re going to be in for a wild ride. You know that you won’t stop till you’ve turned the last page.
This one, Lullaby by French author Leila Slimani and translated from the original French for the first time this year, is an absolute cracker. It is already a European sensation, the winner of the prestigious Prix Goncourt – Slimani is the first Moroccan author to win the prize – selling hundreds of thousands of copies, has been compared to Gone Girl and Girl on the Train, and created such a publishing frenzy that it landed Slimani on the cover of French Elle. (Can you imagine? An author on the cover of a fashion magazine? I love those crazy Frenchies.)
Lullaby is a slim novel that you can tear through in a frenzied afternoon, with a roster of iced coffees by your side. It follows Paul and Myriam, a bourgeois family living slightly beyond their means in Paris’ chic 10th arrondissement, who hire a nanny for the first time when Myriam wants to go back to work as a lawyer. The nanny, Louise, is perfect. She cooks mouth-watering three course meals and tidies the house. She disciplines the children and teaches them languages. She becomes so integral to the family unit they can’t imagine being without her.
Until, suddenly, things start to fall apart. The thriller aspect of this is purely psychological thanks to the snippets of chapters told from Louise’s point of view, which create a slow-building, sickening sense of unease and tension. A caveat, you probably shouldn’t read this book if you have kids, or a nanny, or are thinking about having kids or a nanny.
I felt like I read this book with my breath held and only when I turned the last page did I exhale. A few weeks after reading it, I feel like I’m still exhaling.