The English translation of this award-winning French novel was recently released and everyone has been going crazy for it, so I just had to give it a go. I had heard it described as the next Gone Girl and I loved that book, so my hopes were high. As a final year French student, and a true believer that translations never entirely do a book justice, I decided to read the original French (definitely not just a way of convincing myself that reading this counted as work).
The very first sentence of Chanson Douce, or Lullaby as it has been translated into English, is “Le bébé est mort.” (The baby is dead.) and if that isn’t enough to make you want to get to the end of this book, then I don’t know what would be. how has this baby died? Why? Who killed him? Why? So. Many. Questions. And the great thing about the novel is that we never really have all of them answered, yet we keep reading, hoping that we will be able to gather enough evidence to satisfy our curiosity. Keep reading I did, as I managed to devour all 227 pages in under 24 hours- and I have no regrets.
Slimani does a fantastic job at interchanging between perspectives, in the way that we are never quite sure who we should be identifying with. Yes, it is clear to see who is acting inappropriately, and who we should perhaps dislike in the very moment, but we are never quite sure if we should trust our own judgement. I was constantly questioning whether there was more to the characters than was being let on, and was using information to devise possible scenarios, but I kept finding that I was wrong and that what I had previously predicted, wasn’t necessarily the case. Even the characters you do feel sympathy for are flawed, which I think presents quite an interesting picture of humanity.
The author uses very easy to follow syntax and language for the post part, which definitely contributes to how easy the book is to read. There is plenty of punctuation, which adds to the drama, delaying the narrative and increasing the reader’s desperation to find out what is exactly going to happen.
I think her technique of beginning with the end is fantastic, as it immediately creates a feeling of investment, and I’m not sure the narrative would have had the same effect if the ending was not disclosed this early. On the subject of chronology, I also appreciated the appearance of flashbacks- some of which are obvious and have a clear purpose- some of which are not explicitly flashbacks until the narrative conclusion.
Chanson Douce definitely brings up some really interesting questions with regards to motherhood and parental guilt, which ( even though I am not a mother myself) I believe that many women could identify with: is hiring a nanny the right thing? Should I go back to work?
I really don’t want to give away too much because this narrative is based on mystery- but I don’t think I saw the explanation of the ending coming, and that is what is important. I love a book that keeps me on my toes. I cannot speak for the English translation, but if it conveys even half of the mystery of the French, I cannot recommend it enough.