Chanson douce — Leïla Slimani

Right, first off: I know I am very late to this. When I first saw it in shops (in the UK published as Lullaby), I doubted how much it would be for me. Oh, how wonderfully wrong I turned out to be.

If you’ve also made it to 2021 without reading this, it’s a thriller about a nanny who murders the two children she looks after. At face value, I thought it would be gory and, frankly, a bit sexist (the feminist voice in my head going “but it is MEN who commit the VAST MAJORITY of violent crime!”).

Yet instead of being gratuitous, clichéd and gory it is subtle, elegant and — to my relief — almost completely blood free. Set against the absolute moral clarity about the crime itself, Slimani introduces different facets of female behaviour in caregiving roles — from ownership to abdication of responsibility, and the conflicting feelings that go with them.

The parents are believably, compellingly flawed. But Slimani’s master stroke is creating a nanny whose actions are monstrous, without reducing her to a monster in a way that would ultimately undermine her agency.

It’s a fantastic, gripping read and I would recommend it to anyone.

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