This was a book that traversed genres and that hit the sweet
spot between literary and commercial fiction. Pitched at first into psychological thriller territory as the French Gone Girl, it appealed to horror and literary fans alike, and seemed to capture the zeitgeist of middle-class parental angst, without being exploitative or cynical. Faber published it with great passion, with packaging and promotion that appealed to a wide range of readers and an energetic publicity campaign. For a début author Slimani proved to be a superb promoter too, and has laid the foundations for potentially even greater sales for future titles.
Lullaby contributed to a remarkable 2018 for Faber, which also published the Book of the Year, Sally Rooney’s Normal People, and scooped the title of Independent Publisher of the Year. “Faber did an incredible job of launching Lullaby with such confidence and gusto,” said the judges. “To get that kind of coverage and those kind of sales from a writer in translation and with no UK profile is an extraordinary achievement.”
Discover more on our British Book Awards minisite
In Leila Slimani’s unnerving cautionary tale...subtly translated by Sam Taylor, we know from the outset that it’s a beloved and trusted nanny who murders the two children in her care. That’s pretty radical for a domestic thriller; but what’s more remarkable about this unconventional novel (which was awarded France’s prestigious Prix Goncourt) is the author’s intimate analysis of the special relationship between a mother and a nanny... Slimani writes devastatingly perceptive character studies. Dropping their children at day care, the mothers are “rushed and sad,” the children “little tyrants.” She also raises painful questions...
On first glance a slightly sentimental story about motherhood, really it’s a caustic tale of socioeconomic disparity, and it’s this very same layering that Lullaby does so brilliantly... it’s a chilling, horror-filled read, for sure... Slimani cleverly puts this violence out there on the first page – we know how the story ends even before it’s started... Gracefully translated from the original French by Sam Taylor, I’d put money on Lullaby being the smartest thriller you’ll read all year, not to mention an urgent commentary on class, race, gender, and the politics of mothering.
Her complexity is the best element of the novel... Knowing how it’s all going to end doesn’t take tension from the story; rather it increases it by making us more alert to the multiplying clues of odd behaviour that the young couple blithely ignore. It is not a great literary achievement, but Slimani horribly illuminates the darkest fears of a great many parents of small children anxiously trying to get on with their lives.
...Slimani’s deft, often agonising novel shakes it up with a precision that takes your breath away... Slimani ratchets up the tension by scattering clues, some so distressing that you read on with a genuine and mounting sense of dread... that’s without even mentioning the acid, throwaway beauty of so many of Slimani’s descriptions and phrases... I closed this book feeling very shaken but also with a sense that I’d just had an experience that almost no other art form could have given me. Long live the novel... intelligent and unerringly humane piece of work.
The novel’s final chapters swing wide of plausibility. As Slimani attempts to evolve Louise’s character from perfect nanny to plausible child-killer, the narrative gears begin to grind... Many readers, however, will scarcely notice. The book is compulsively readable... As the remaining pages thin beneath your fingers you turn them all the faster, knowing you’re nearing the terrible denouement. I read it in one sitting. For the most part, Lullaby is a compelling and psychologically astute novel, but you never quite escape the sense that Slimani is overeager to shock. Novelists should deploy their dead babies carefully.
Its multiple appeal is clear from the first page: Slimani’s style, enhanced by Sam Taylor’s graceful, unobtrusive translation, is calm, matter-of-fact and controlled, with only a hint of the deranged unravelling to come... it is primarily a cool, dispassionate, and thoroughly uncomfortable look at class, culture and gender, particularly the eternally knotty subject of motherhood: its loaded, sometimes leaden obligations and intense dichotomies... Boldly, Slimani develops an atmosphere of claustrophobia and rising tension in just over 200 pages... Slimani’s triumphantly uncompromising examination of female anger and acquiescence.