‘The Perfect Nanny’ by Leila Slimani – Not a Lullaby

 

‘The Perfect Nanny’ by Leila Slimani   (2016) – 228 pages                                                    Translated from the French by Sam Taylor

I would not read a bestselling thriller just because it is popular.  I have never read ‘Gone Girl’.  The only reason I have now read ‘The Perfect Nanny’ by Leila Slimani (titled ‘Lullaby’ in England and other English-speaking countries) is because it won the 2016 Goncourt Prize which to me is usually a mark of French literary distinction.  I have read several Goncourt Prize winners in recent years.

The young French couple Paul and Myriam are looking for a nanny for their two little children, Mila and Adam, so that Myriam can go back to her job as a lawyer. Their main requirement for a nanny is she not be an illegal immigrant.  The French woman Louise shows up, they hire her, and she turns out to be the perfect nanny in every respect.  The kids like her, and she has them doing all kinds of interesting things.  The parents even decide to take her along on their vacations.

And of course the situation is way too good to be true. ‘The Perfect Nanny’ is a nightmarish psychological thriller.

Looking at ‘The Perfect Nanny’ from a literary angle, I must say that I was not impressed with the novel. The prose here is efficient and workmanlike as we’ve come to expect for thrillers, and it is not at all individual or idiosyncratic as one might expect for a Goncourt Prize winner.  For a Goncourt Prize winner, ‘The Perfect Nanny’ is rather a drag at the sentence level.  There is not much going on in the individual sentences.

I also did not find the transformation of the nanny Louise from “prim politeness” to something entirely different at all convincing.  It seems to me that in a psychological thriller there should be hints from the very beginning that something is not right.  However in ‘The Perfect Nanny’ we read the entire first half of the novel, and Louise is still perfect in every way.

I probably will not be reading any further novels by Leila Slimani.  There is one French woman novelist who has not won the Goncourt Prize so far, yet I find her work of such a high quality that I can’t figure out why she hasn’t been awarded the prize yet.  I have read three novels by Delphine de Vigan: ‘Underground Time’, ‘Nothing Holds Back the Night’ and ‘Based on a True Story’. Any of these three but especially ‘Underground Time’ would have been a fine winner.  They have the literary fineness appropriate for the Goncourt.  Delphine de Vigan is the real thing.

 

Grade :   B-

 

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7 responses to this post.

  1. Kim at Reading Matters was disappointed too. I don’t like it when prizes abandon their real purpose in order to get publicity for the prize or (even worse) for so-called accessibility, and giving the prize to a book that doesn’t deserve it because it’s popular is a disappointment all round.

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    • HI Lisa,
      Yes, I wish these prizes wouldn’t go overboard for novels that are extremely popular. I’m still waiting for Delphine de Vigan to get the prize. Marie Ndiaye is also a strong French writer, but she has already gotten her Goncourt Prize.

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  2. Posted by Annabel (gaskella) on February 22, 2018 at 11:55 AM

    Ooh! I read Kim’s review too – both make me want to read this book to see whether I agree with you two. I must read more Delphine de Vigan (I own all her books, but have as yet only read No & Me which was just lovely).

    I did, however, enjoy Gone Girl, flawed as it is. The one to really avoid is The Girl on the Train which was really bad!

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    • Hi Annabel,
      Oh good, I have avoided ‘The Girl on the Train’ successfully. I wasn’t aware of the existence of ‘No & Me’, and now that goes on my TBR list. Probably the best way to see ‘The Perfect Nanny’ is to watch it when they make it into a movie. 🙂

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  3. Totally agree, Tony. The prose is very flat and pedestrian but I wondered if that was the translation (I find that I don’t tend to like stuff translated by Sam Taylor for some reason). Also, as you point out, it feels totally unconvincing. There’s no hints that Louise is troubled, no build up to fear, so when you close the book the only thing left in my mind (aside from wanting to throw it across the room) was WHY! Why did she do it?

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    • Hi Kim,
      I was wondering about the translation, because for some reason the novel caused such a sensation in France. I was unfamiliar with the translator Sam Taylor until now. None of the characters in, as you call it, ‘Lullaby’ including Louise are going to stay in my mind.

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