Lullaby by Leïla Slimani (tr. Sam Taylor)

Lullaby on tiled floor

a nutshell: a seemingly flawless nanny, Louise, has just killed the two young children she cherishes, and this utterly addictive novel rewinds to unravel why

a line: “Her heart has grown hard. The years have covered it in a thick, cold rind and she can barely hear it beating. Nothing moves her any more”

an image: Louise’s spiralling obsession with avoiding waste sees her dig out a gone-off chicken carcass binned by the mother and, in a distressing scene, instruct the children to scrape off the last bits of meat, washed down with big glasses of Fanta so they wouldn’t choke

a thought: as the only white nanny in the neighbourhood, Louise is an anomaly among the community of immigrant nannies who gather with the kids at the local playground;  in Slimani’s story it’s the mother, the boss, who is an immigrant

a fact: the book was inspired by the 2012 murder of two children by their nanny in New York – though it was very well received in France, it didn’t have the same reception in the US

bonus quote: Slimani says of writing: “For me, it is freedom, freedom from everything: when I write I’m not a woman, I’m not a Muslim, I’m not a Moroccan. I can reinvent myself and I can reinvent the world”

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The Empress and the Cake by Linda Stift (tr. Jamie Bulloch)

a nutshell: at once sinister and compelling, this psychological thriller opens in Vienna with an invitation to share cake and rapidly spirals into a nightmare of uncontrollable obsession and oppression

a line: “The grotesque face of my abnormality, which had lain dormant within me, resurfaced … I had always known that there was no safety net”

an image: the narrator’s memories of the trepidation that had always smothered family meals – particularly the way in which her grandfather used to ravage all her childhood experiences with food – are devastating to read

a thought: cleverly written, this novel pivots on the internal and external horrors of suffering from addiction (principally eating disorders) and abuse of bodies/minds; it is no easy read

a fact: the eeriest character, Frau Hohenembs, is seen to resemble the late Empress Elisabeth (‘Sissi’) of Austria, who obsessively kept her weight below 50 kilos through periods of complete fasting and rigorous exercise regimes

 

want to read The Empress and the Cake? visit here