Leila Slimani: Sex and Freedom

Leila Slimani.jpg

Leila Slimani’s novel Lullaby not only won the Prix Goncourt in 2016, making her the first Moroccan-born winner of the prize, but it also was the most read book in France for that year. Emmanuel Macron, who is known to consider himself a man of letters, asked to meet her during his presidential campaign and she publicly supported him as a candidate.

French media subsequently reported that he offered her a job as a culture minister once he was elected but she has since accepted a less demanding role reporting to him on Francophone literature and culture; traditionally, a post for a career politician.

This feels a long way from 2010 when she was arrested by the Tunisian Army whilst working as a journalist during the Arab Spring. When I meet her in a central London hotel, she describes feeling like “it was 20 years ago.” The reason her work as a novelist seems so essential to her is that it affords her a freedom she couldn’t have as a politician, or even as a journalist.

 

Adèle by Leila Slimani

Adele by Leila Slimani.jpg

Leila Slimani’s “Lullaby” was the best selling book in France in 2016 before becoming an international success. “Adèle” came out in France before “Lullaby”, but this is its first outing in English, in a sharp and nuanced translation from Sam Taylor. It is a short, disturbing novel, written in the present tense and set in a bleak and amoral Paris.

Like Emma Bovary, Adèle is married to a doctor. She also echoes the nihilism of Flaubert’s heroine. Adèle is a successful journalist, but thoroughly bored by her rather proper, borderline-prudish husband Richard. She feels excluded – almost redundant – because of her husband’s fierce love for their child. She is also obsessed by transgressive sex – with her boss, her best friend’s boyfriend, and a pair of male prostitutes.

 

Lullaby by Leila Silmani

Leïla Slimani’s second novel won the Prix Goncourt and became the most read book in France in 2016. Now translated by Sam Taylor, it is being marketed as this year’s Gone Girl.

Myriam and Paul are blissfully happy after the birth of their first child, but shortly afterwards “the clocklike perfection of the family mechanism jammed”. When Myriam, who is of North African descent, visits a childcare agency, she is assumed to be a prospective employee.