Leïla Slimani: Chanson douce [Sweet Song]


The latest addition to my website is Leïla Slimani‘s Chanson douce [Sweet Song]. Slimani, born in Morocco and resident in France, won the Prix Goncourt for this novel. We know what happens from the first paragraph – two young children are brutally murdered and their apparent assailant who has tried but failed to kill herself, lies next to them. She is their nanny, Louise. The book tells the story of how this situation came about. Paul and Myriam Massé hire a nanny when Myriam goes back to work (as a lawyer) after having two children. Louise comes with impeccable credentials and she seems a dream come true. Not only does she take care of the children, who adore her, she does a whole range of other household tasks, including cooking for their guests. However, we gradually sees that Louise is not a happy person. Her own daughter has disappeared. She had an unhappy marriage and is now a widow. She desperately wants another child of her own. She does not seem to have any life of her own outside her babysitting job, with a variety of financial problems. Slimani addresses a range of issues such as racism and sexism, but also the role of the respective parents in the upbringing of children, mothers juggling work and family concerns and the associated guilt that they are neglecting one or the other (or both); the exploitation of staff; the issue of illegal aliens and how they are exploited by employers; living alone in a big city and, of course, a range of mental health issues. Though we know the ending, she tells her story well, leaving us wondering how it all went wrong.

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