Recently I read the novel Lullaby, by Leïla Slimani. I thought it was a good book and I wanted to see what other people thought about it. So naturally I turned to the internet.
Unfortunately, Lullaby has been marketed as “the French Gone Girl“, which isn’t really accurate. It is not a fun thriller with lots of exciting twists and turns. So if someone picked it up expecting that, and instead got a tense exploration of class, poverty, race and the pressures of motherhood in modern France, I can understand they might need a while to adjust their expectations.
That being said… I regret reading the Amazon and GoodReads reviews, which have comment after comment grumbling about the book’s ending. “Waste of time.” “I don’t understand why she did it.” “Where is the twist?”
Lullaby immediately opens with a horrifying subject: a nanny murders the two children in her care. The narrative then travels back to explore the characters’ pasts and the relationships between them. What it does not do – much to the ire of these reviewers – is offer a magic explanation or easily digestible reason for this shocking crime. Something that you can read and say, “Oh, so that’s why that happened!” and then consider the case closed.
Fine. Let’s rewrite the ending of the book to be more to your liking. I present:
The real twist endings to Lullaby
- The nanny didn’t actually do the murders and instead it was her estranged daughter who was out for revenge.
- The children were going to grow up to be incredibly evil, basically Future Hitlers, and the nanny was a time-travelling assassin sent to prevent the darkest timeline from becoming true.
- The husband’s grandmother did the murders because she was suffering from some sort of brain disease brought on by dislodging toxic materials during her home renovation, and also she was the long-lost sister of the nanny’s abusive ex-husband.
- While they were in Greece, the nanny was kidnapped by her evil twin, who took her place and eventually killed the children because she was actually a vampire.
- The children faked the murders to make the mother realise that she was a Bad Mother who should give up her career and life outside the home and truly devote herself to them. The sequel begins with the sentence “The baby was actually alive the whole time” and the whole plot is just the mother taking her children to flute lessons and feeding them organic blueberries.
- The nanny was actually a figment of the mother’s imagination, which she had conjured up as a result of her secret desire to kill the children, who were also not real, because actually she was in a coma imagining her ideal life and the only way for her to come out of the coma and return to reality was to destroy her dream life.
Much better. Dissatisfied readers, pick your favourite.
As for the publishers – market your books appropriately! I haven’t even touched the American edition, which The New Yorker has the dirt on:
The American one, which comes out in January, will be called “The Perfect Nanny.” John Siciliano, Slimani’s editor at Penguin, told me, “I didn’t want to call it ‘Lullaby,’ because that sounds sleepily forgettable, and my goal is to reach a big commercial readership.” He name-checked “Gone Girl” and “The Girl on the Train” and said, “We’re getting this book into places like Walmart and Target.”
This entire pitch sounds like selling the book based on what they think will sell, rather than what it actually is. Publishers seem to have been caught up in a frenzy for female-led murder thrillers with “Girl” in the title – I’m surprised this wasn’t called The Girl With The Peter Pan Collar – that they’ll just cram anything into that bracket. Then customers will be disappointed and leave negative reviews on Amazon, but they’ve already made their money by that point, so who cares?
I probably shouldn’t be surprised by any of this, but frankly the whole thing really burns my biscuits and I wanted to grumble about it. Call me Burnt Biscuit Girl and sell me at the airport.