Review: “Lullaby” by Leïla Slimani, translated by Sam Taylor

This book lays all bare from the very first paragraph:

The baby is dead. It took only a few seconds. The doctor said he didn’t suffer. The broken body, surrounded by toys, was put inside a grey bag, which they zipped shut. The little girl was still alive when the ambulance arrived. She’d fought like a wild animal. They found signs of a struggle, bits of skin under her soft fingernails. On the way to the hospital she was agitated, her body shaken by convulsions. Eyes bulging, she seemed to be gasping for air. Her throat was filled with blood. Her lungs had been punctured, her head smashed violently against the blue chest of drawers.

Having said that, it rolls on quite indifferently from a time before that occurs.

Louise is hired as nanny in a nuclear family of four where she cooks, mends clothes, and rears kids. She’s impeccable.

Naturally, there are changes that affect the impeccability, but I won’t go into that as it would beast upon this short book. Even though the book—to myself—bears some hallmarks of needing some editing, I really enjoyed its curtness, the “French” way of simply curtailing emotional stuff that’s not significant in terms of plot; reading this book was like watching Olivier Assayas’s perfect film “Summer Hours“, where a bunch of people do stuff seemingly without “meaning” in the Hollywoodesque sense of the word; even though the punchline of this book is seemingly published at its very start, it’s not: is life about goals or the journey?

There’s a lot to be said for how well written the book is at times. Simple and short sentences strengthen it:

Paul serves the wine, and the conversations soon rise high above such earthly considerations as food. They speak louder and louder. They stub out their cigarettes in their plates and the butts float in puddles of sauce. No one has noticed that Louise has withdrawn to the kitchen, which she is energetically cleaning.

The rhythm of the book is not very complex, but why should it be? It’s akin to reading Kurt Vonnegut or Amelia Grey, whose stories often rely on being quite curt, and still emotional due to being human.

This is a short, but not really memorable book; there’s a spectral and haunting undertone that seeps through the book, adding a horrific taint throughout, but I didn’t feel it to be enough. Still, I’ll definitely read more by this author.

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