The Novel That is the Talk of the Town

The Killer-Nanny Novel That Conquered France

Leïla Slimani’s best-seller explores the dark relationship of a mother and her babysitter.

A year ago, I picked up a book, “Chanson Douce,” that I’ve thought about pretty much every day since. I was initially drawn to it because I’d read that its author, Leïla Slimani, had been inspired by a news item about a New York nanny who killed the two children in her care. The murders happened in 2012, but I remembered them in all their excruciating particulars: that the mother had been at a swimming lesson with a third sibling; that they came home and found the boy and the girl bleeding in the bathtub; that the nanny, who tried to slit her own throat, said she was upset at having been asked to take on cleaning duties; that the couple has since had two more kids. Once in a while, someone else’s misery penetrates the carapace of self-absorption under which you scuttle around and gets deep into you. Feeling somehow protective of the story, I was both beguiled and a little shocked by Slimani’s audacity in laying claim to it.

Slimani had just won the Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary prize, which counts among its laureates Proust and Malraux. “Usually, the Goncourt Academy rewards books of the past,” the president of the jury had declared. “This year, we elect a book that speaks of the present, of the everyday and of its problems, such as the question of delegating authority and love to a person outside the family. Many will recognize themselves in this book.” The Goncourt has, more often than not, gone to a middle-aged white man, and so the committee had also broken from history in consecrating Slimani as the face of French literature. At thirty-five, she was the second Moroccan and the twelfth woman to receive the award (and the first to do so four months pregnant).

“Chanson Douce,” her second novel, sold six hundred thousand copies in its first year of publication, making Slimani, who lives in Paris, the most-read author in France in 2016. Elle put her on the cover, in red lipstick and a jumpsuit: “leïla slimani superstar.” Politicians of varying persuasions clambered to reheat themselves in her glow. Launching his bid for the Presidency, Manuel Valls paid tribute to the French language, “that of Rabelais, of Hugo, of Camus, of Césaire, of de Beauvoir, of Patrick Modiano, and Leïla Slimani.” Emmanuel Macron, now France’s President, reportedly invited her to be his minister of culture. “I love my freedom too much,” she told me when I asked about it.

Read further @ The New Yorker

~ by eneryvibes on 1,February 6, 2018.

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