Lullaby (“Chanson douce”), by Leïla Slimani
Lullaby (“Chanson douce") is the second novel by Leïla Slimani, published by Gallimard. Both winner of the 2016 Prix Goncourt winner and winner of the magazine Elle's Readers Grand Prize in 2017, the book was a hit with critics and readers alike.
Leïla Slimani, all about books
Born in 1981 in Morocco, Leïla Slimani began her career as a journalist for the magazine Jeune Afrique after studying literature and political science. In 2014, she released In the Garden of the Ogre (“Dans le jardin de l’ogre”), her first novel, published by Gallimard. Lullaby appeared two years later in 2016, bringing Leïla Slimani to the forefront of the literary scene.
A modern novel about modern society
Lullaby stands out thanks to its original plot which describes the arrival of a murderous nanny in the daily life of a family. A couple hires a nanny to look after their two children when Myriam, the mother, decides to go back to work. From the first page, the novel starts with the murder of the two children by the nanny. The narrative continues this tragic tale, describing the series of events that led to this fatal outcome. Leïla Slimani, however, does not choose to write a police procedural which focuses on investigating the culprit and her motive, instead exploring the situation through psychological and social analysis.
Lullaby is a book that talks to us about motherhood, the difficult balance between control and letting go, and more generally about the condition of women in our societies by analysing power relations, money and prejudices between different social classes.
A crescendo of horror
Although the novel’s title evokes a child’s song, this idyllic image belies the readers experience as they watch this family gradually descend into horror. Numerous flashbacks reveal the toxic relationship between the parents and the nanny, as the author immerses us in a spiral of darkness which keeps the reader in suspense until the very last page.
A contemporary tragedy
Lullaby is written as a tragedy, and thus relies on certain tropes from ancient and classical theatre. In the initial crime scene we are confronted with the horror in medias res, a technique that involves of placing the reader in the middle of the action, with the events leading up to it being explained only later, through flashbacks. From the very beginning, the protagonists are thus condemned to an inevitable fate.
In 2018 Chanson douce was translated into Bengali (India) with the support of the Institut français. Through its translation support programmes, the Institut français participates in the global dissemination of French-language literature. Find out more about the translation support programmes here