This novel about a murderous nanny, Moroccan author Slimani’s first to be published in the U.S., was awarded the 2016 Priz Goncourt.
Inspired by a 2012 case involving an Upper West Side nanny accused of killing two children in her charge, Slimani’s novel moves the story to a similarly upscale locale, the tenth arrondissement of Paris. Since the book opens with the murders, leaving no doubt as to the culprit, the reader quickly gathers that the inquiry here is not who did it but why. A narrative that is chiefly flashback attempts to reverse-engineer an explanation. Louise, a middle-aged widow with an estranged adult daughter, is hired by a professional couple to look after their young children, Mila and Adam. The father, Paul, is a rising music producer, and the mother, Myriam, an attorney who's just taken a demanding position at a law firm. Myriam and Paul are pleasantly surprised by Louise’s spectacular suitability for her job: not only does she quickly win over the children with her creative games and sense of play, but she goes above and beyond a nanny’s role, becoming a housekeeper and general factotum. Never has the apartment looked so clean, never have meals been so appetizing and nourishing. Her employers take Louise along on their summer vacation to Greece, where she begins to see possibilities beyond her constricted life. However, the idyll is threatened on all sides when the pathology underlying Louise’s perfectionism begins to emerge. The near-omniscient point of view darts in and out of the consciousness of many characters, some quite marginal. Consequently, the depiction of internal pressures building to a homicidal pitch is fragmentary at best. Ultimately, the evidence against Louise, whether of compulsive behavior, mental illness, bad luck, or just extreme loneliness, does not add up to a motive for infanticide. The prose, despite Taylor’s often slapdash translation, manages to convey an atmosphere of creeping dread reminiscent of Modiano, but with more lurid details.
The why of this horrific crime remains unfathomable, rendering it all the more frightening.