Originally published: 11 January 2018
Author: Leila Slimani
Set in: Paris, France
Page count: 224
Reading dates: 15-16 March 2018
Star Rating: 4/5
When Myriam, a brilliant French-Moroccan lawyer, decides to return to work, she and her husband take on Louise, a quiet, polite and devoted woman who sings to their children, cooks, cleans the family’s apartment in Paris and is the perfect nanny, compared by the parents themselves as Mary Poppins, and envied by their friends.
As the couple of their nanny become more and more dependant on each other, jealousy, resentment and suspicions arise.
The first 4 words of the book “The baby is dead” are shocking to the core and the rest of the book is read with a great deal on unease.
I liked the way it plays on the fears of parents everywhere – the thought of leaving your child with a stranger is terrifying but often necessary. The story gradually attempts to give us a motive for the shocking events in the first few pages – we see flashbacks to Louise’s life before – domestic violence, debt, an unwanted child of her own and we see how she gradually becomes more and more unhinged.
Chansons douce (“sweet song”) is the French title and the book was inspired by the killing by a nanny of the Krim children in Manhattan in 2012. Slimani named the nanny Louise after Louise Woodward, a British au pair in the US that was convicted of involuntary manslaughter of the toddler in her care. The novel was well received by French critics and quickly turned into a bestseller before the book was awarded the Prix Goncourt in 2016.
Subsequently it became the most read book in France of that year with over 450,000 copies printed and by the end of 2017 around 600,000 copies had been sold in France. The English translation was published in 2018 as The Perfect Nanny in the US and as Lullaby in the UK.