Leïla Slimani

Leila Slimani
Portrait by Thibaut Chapotot/Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication (commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File: Leïla Slimani.jpg)

Leïla Slimani was born on 3 October 1981 in Rabat, Morocco. She holds both Moroccan and French citizenship, with a half-Alsatian, half-Algerian mother and a Moroccan father. She grew up speaking French in her home and went through French schooling in Morocco. After completing her baccalaureate, she studied as part of the classes préparatoires for literature at the Lycée Fénelon in Paris. She then remained in Paris and studied Political Science at Sciences-Po and Media Studies at l’École Supérieure de Commerce de Paris (ESCP). She became a journalist for Jeune Afrique in 2008, with a specific focus on North Africa. In 2011 after the birth of her first child, Slimani decided to become a freelancer with the aim of producing a novel. She has continued to live in Paris.

Her first attempt at a fictional novel was rejected. In 2013, she then attended a creative writing workshop at Gallimard to improve her style. It was run by novelist and editor, Jean-Marie Laclavetine, who saw the potential in her work. In 2014, Slimani’s first novel, Dans le jardin de l’ogre was published with Gallimard, winning the Prix Littéraire de la Mamounia in 2015. In 2016, her next novel, Chanson douce, was published. It gave Slimani the prestige of the Prix Goncourt that same year, as well as the magazine Elle’s Grand Prix des Lectrices and Grand Prix des Lycéennes in 2017.

The presence of women is unavoidable in Slimani’s work, with the writer herself as a great admirer of the works of Simone de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf and Simone Veil. The theme of the female pariah features in her fiction, first with Adèle in Dans le jardin de l’ogre and then with Louise in Chanson douce. Adèle is a Franco-Algerian, 35 year-old nymphomaniac and has what seems to be the perfect bourgeois lifestyle. She is married to a doctor, has an adorable son and a successful career as a journalist. For Adèle, the ennui of this lifestyle only seems to increase her sexual urges. Adèle lives a double life: she has regular men she meets up with and sex with complete strangers. These incidents are occasionally even dangerous. Slimani’s novel demonstrates how this addiction becomes out of control, with Adèle’s compulsive sexual behaviour even affecting the protagonist during a civilized meal with her husband’s work colleagues, and her friend’s art show. Adèle feels she does not belong amongst the friends and family who surround her and seeks a secret double lifestyle in order to feel alive. In Chanson douce, the French nanny, Louise, is also depicted as an outcast. She too is a woman desperately seeking her place in the world, relying on her job as a nanny to fulfil this need. Louise is a lower-class woman with a difficult past. She is accumulating a number of debts, with no true friends or family to help her. She feels outside of society, with a sense of loneliness that augments. Louise seems most at ease with the children in her care and feels like an exile when trying to socialise in the adult world which she is forced to navigate.

Loneliness is an emotion that is captured in both Dans le jardin de l’ogre and Chanson douce, with women who cannot seem to emotionally connect with anyone around them. Slimani’s fictional writing style is raw and, at times, blunt in these novels. The stagnant style choice is often compared to that of the existentialist writer, Camus. Slimani’s abrupt style adds to the alarming subject matter in the writer’s fictional works. Slimani also delves into the difficulties of mental illness in these two texts. Adèle suffers an illness that is jeopardizing her marriage, ruining her friendships and affecting her career. Slimani also explores the deterioration of the mental health of the nanny in Chanson douce. Louise slowly descends into a state of madness, leading to her murder of the two children in her care.

Slimani openly states that she is inspired by faits-divers (news items). Dans le jardin de l’ogre was inspired by the charges of sexual assault against the French politician Dominique Strauss-Khan. Chanson douce began as a novel about the banal relationship between a mother, her children and a nanny before Slimani was inspired by the real-life murders of two children (the Krim siblings) in New York by their nanny in 2012.

In 2017, Emmanuel Macron appointed Leïla Slimani as his personal representative to the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. Despite being the advocate of francophonie, Slimani emphasizes her identity as an intellectual and a writer over her ethnic or national identity. In Comment j’écris, she states: 'Et lorsque je me mets à ma table de travail, je ne suis plus vraiment moi. Je ne suis plus une femme, je ne suis plus marocaine ou française, je ne suis même plus à Paris ni quelque part ; je suis affranchie de tout […]'. Although Slimani often refuses the label of a writer of francophonie, race and ethnicity are embedded, albeit not always explicitly, in her work. In her non-fictional work, Sexe et mensonges: La vie sexuelle au Maroc (2017), this theme of race and ethnic origins is explicit from the title. Made into a graphic novel in the same year, Slimani’s Sexe et mensonges provides a platform for the voices of Moroccan women to tell the stories of their lives and difficulties living in a patriarchal world. Slimani transcribes first-hand accounts in order to explain how Moroccan women face the difficulties of a society which prohibits, by law, sex before marriage, homosexuality and prostitution. The work describes the hypocrisy of a society which forces women to take either the position of virgin or wife, whilst allowing men a certain sexual liberty.

Slimani’s most recent novel, Le Pays des autres (2020), connects her fascination with the female pariah with these themes of race and immigration. Le Pays des autres is semi auto-biographical; it is the first part of a trilogy in which Slimani explores the stories of her family. This novel depicts the story of Slimani’s grandparents: a young couple (an Alsatian woman and a Moroccan man who fought in the French army), move to Morocco after the war. It explores how Mathilde feels stifled by the rigorious climate of this new country. Like Slimani’s previous female protagonists, Mathilde also feels alone and isolated in the home with her children. She is also 'outcasted'; Morroco stigmatizes Mathilde for not being a Muslim. The book also covers the rising tensions and violence leading up to the independence of Morocco in 1956. This novel marks a turning point in Slimani’s writing style; here she decides to move away from the short, blunt style featured in her previous work and uses a more fluid sentence structure.

During the Covid-19 epidemic of 2020, Slimani was asked by Le Monde to write daily confinement diary accounts. One of these accounts discusses the confinement of women throughout history.

Compiled by Jessica Rushton (Durham)

Bibliography

Chanson douce (Paris: Gallimard, 2016)

Comment j’écris (La Tour-d'Aigues: Editions de l'Aube, 2018)

Dans le jardin de l’ogre (Paris: Gallimard, 2014)

La Baie de Dakhla : Itinérance enchantée entre mer et désert, (Casablanca, Malika Éditions, 2013)

Le Diable est dans les détails (La Tour-d'Aigues: Editions de l'Aube, 2016)

Le Pays des autres (Paris: Gallimard, 2020)

Paroles d'honneur (Paris: Les Arènes, 2017)

Sexe et mensonges: La vie sexuelle au Maroc (Paris: Les Arènes, 2017)

Simone Veil, mon héroïne (Paris: Editions de l'Aube, 2017)

English Translations of Slimani's Work

Adèle [translation of Le Diable est dans les détails by Sam Taylor] (London: Faber & Faber, 2019)

Lullaby [translation of Chanson douce by Sam Taylor] (London: Faber & Faber, 2018)

Sex and Lies [Translation of Sexe et mensonges: La vie sexuelle au Maroc by Sophie Lewis] (London: Faber & Faber, 2020)

Filmography

Chanson douce, dir. by Lucie Borleteau (StudioCanal, 2019)

Theatre

Chanson douce adapted for the Comédie-Française, Paris by Pauline Bayle (see also the Comédie Française website: https://www.comedie-francaise.fr/en/events/chanson-douce18-19)

Renard Bertrand, ‘"Chanson douce": la nounou meurtrière de Leïla Slimani fait son entrée à la Comédie-Française’, France Info, 9 April 2019
available at: https://www.francetvinfo.fr/culture/spectacles/theatre/quot-chanson-doucequot-la-nounou-meurtriere-de-leila-slimani-fait-son-entree-a-la-comedie-francaise_3398835.html

Other

 ‘“Le Dormeur du val (Meknès, 2001)”’, Libération, 25 September 2019 available at: https://next.liberation.fr/livres/2019/09/25/le-dormeur-du-val-meknes-2001-par-leila-slimani_1753511

‘“Un porc, tu nais ?”’, Libération, 12 January 2018 available at: https://www.liberation.fr/france/2018/01/12/un-porc-tu-nais_1621913

For Leïla Slimani’s articles for Jeune Afrique, see https://www.jeuneafrique.com/auteurs/l.slimani/

For Leïla Slimani’s blog for le360, see https://fr.le360.ma/blog/leila-slimani-87283?page=1

For Leïla Slimani’s confinement diaries, see https://www.lemonde.fr/signataires/leila-slimani/

Criticism

Collins, Lauren: ‘The Home Front: Leïla Slimani's Audacious Study of Desire’ (The New Yorker, 2018, pp. 31-41)

—: ‘The Killer-Nanny Novel that Conquered France’ (The New Yorker, 1 January 2018 available at: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/01/01/the-killer-nanny-novel-that-conquered-france)

Dabadie, Florence: Chanson douce de Leïla Slimani (Analyse de l'œuvre) (Paris: lePetitLitteraire, 2018)

Davis, J. Madison: ‘The Nightmare Tropes of Three Women Writers: Leïla Slimani, Karen Dionne and Yras Sigurðardóttir’(World Literature Today, 92.4 (2018), pp.10-12)

Delpierre, Alizée: ‘Disparaître pour servir: les nounous ont-elles un corps?’ (L’Homme et la Société, 203/204 (2017), pp. 261-269)

Elkin, Lauren: ‘Good Girls’ (London Review of Books, 41.4, 21 February 2019 available at: https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v41/n04/lauren-elkin/good-girls)

Fernández Erquicia, Irati: ‘La présence de la femme dans l’œuvre de Leïla Slimani’ (Thélème: Revista complutense de estudios franceses, 34.1 (2019), pp. 173-189)

Giardino, Alessandro: ‘Les Étrangères de Leïla Slimani: Morocaines “dévoilées” et femmes de révolte’ (Nouvelle Études Francophones, 33.2 (208), pp.147-59)

Howell, Jennifer: ‘Review of Leïla Slimani, Chanson douce (2016)’ (The Journal of North African Studies, 22 (2017), pp. 301–03)

Khalid Lyamlahy: ‘On the Imperfections of The Perfect Nanny’ (World Literature Today, 2018, available at: https://www.worldliteraturetoday.org/blog/book-reviews/imperfections-perfect-nanny-khalid-lyamlahy)

Manavis, Sarah: 'Paris is a City of Violence' (New Statesman, 148 (2019), pp. 46-49)

Muelas, Marta Isabel: ‘Soledad y terror en Canción Dulce de Leïla Slimani’ (Poligramas, 46 (2018), pp. 233-36)

Ousselin, Edward: ‘Chanson Douce’ (World Literature Today, 91.3/4 (2017), pp. 104-105)

Parker, Gabrielle: ‘Madame Bovary X!, or “on a le droit de vouloir être un objet”’ (Esprit Créateur, 59.3 (2019), pp. 47-59)

Pujas, Sophie: ‘Le Maghreb vit dans la culture de l’hypocrisie et du mensonge’ (Le Point Afrique, 15 September 2016, available at:  https://www.lepoint.fr/culture/leila-slimani-le-maghreb-vit-dans-la-culture-de-l-hypocrisie-et-du-mensonge-15-09-2016-2068548_3.php

Shafak, Elif: ‘Breaking the Silence’ (New Statesman, 149 (2020), p. 46)

Starace, Lorenza: ‘Leïla Slimani’s Chanson douce: Paradoxes of Identity and Visibility in the Littérature-Monde Paradigm’ (Francosphères, 8.2 (2019), pp. 143-65)

Willsher, Kim: ‘Leïla Slimani: ‘This Book is a Mirror to Make the Elite Look Reality in the Face’ (The Guardian, 16 Feburary 2020, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/feb/16/leila-slimani-interview-sex-and-lies-women-morocco

Wiseman, Eva: ‘Lullaby, the Book of the Moment, is a Wake-Up Call for Us All; Leïla Slimani's Troubling Tale of Infanticide is a Portrait of Desperate Loneliness’ (The Guardian, 28 January 2018, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/jan/28/lullaby-the-book-of-the-moment-is-a-wake-up-call-for-us-all

Interviews

Ghoshal, Somak: ‘Why French Novelist Leila Slimani Wrote the Story of a Killer Nanny’ (Live Mint, 17 February 2018, available at: https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/aFzxfEtvuuWRfotAeY3MXP/Why-French-novelist-Leila-Slimani-wrote-the-story-of-a-kille.html

Freeman, John: ‘Leila Slimani Doesn’t Care if You’re Uncomfortable’ (Literary Hub, 29 April 2019, available at: https://lithub.com/leila-slimani-doesnt-care-if-youre-uncomfortable/

Marks, Olivia: ‘Author Leïla Slimani Invites Vogue Into Her Literary World’ (Vogue, 20 January 2019, available at: https://www.vogue.co.uk/article/leila-slimani-interview

 ‘Leïla Slimani: The More Languages We Speak the More Humanity We Gain’ (Institut français, 16 July 2019, available at: https://www.institutfrancais.com/en/interview/leila-slimani

Treisman, Deborah: ‘Leïla Slimani on Living with Unbearable Secrets’ (The New Yorker, 11 February, 2019, available at: https://www.newyorker.com/books/this-week-in-fiction/leila-slimani-02-18-19

Videos

'Le Pays des autres', premier tome de la saga de Leïla Slimani – Extrait (5 March 2020; available online at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXkILfHIr-s)

'Deuxième sexe': Leïla Slimani et l'héritage de Simone de Beauvoir (1 June 2018; available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlYAr8o9yB4&list=RDCMUCiCzaDXmMcrW57Ky2_KcTHg&start_radio=1&t=0)

Entretien avec Leïla Slimani, prix Goncourt 2016 - ELLE et les Femmes (3 February 2017; available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Np21g_lBMlI)

Leïla Slimani – Chanson douce (16 Deember 2016; available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TN2d9h8Q1Zs)

Leïla Slimani parle de son roman Chanson Douce (Gallimard) (9 September 2016; available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ftDYhYIqpM&t=1s)

Podcasts

La Poudre - Épisode 4 - Leïla Slimani (Nouvelles Écoutes, 2017, at: https://soundcloud.com/nouvelles-ecoutes/la-poudre-episode-4-leila-slimani)

Leïla Slimani and Amia Srinivasan: Sex and Lies (London Review of Books, 24 February 2020, avaialble at: https://www.lrb.co.uk/podcasts-and-videos/podcasts/at-the-bookshop/leila-slimani-and-amia-srinivasan-sex-and-lies)

Leïla Slimani reads 'The Confession' - The Writer’s Voice: Fiction from the Magazine (The New Yorker, 19 February 2019, available at: https://www.newyorker.com/podcast/the-authors-voice/leila-slimani-reads-the-confession)

Leïla Slimani, Jason Blum and Hannah Lew (The Monocle Weekly, 1 March 2020, available at: https://monocle.com/radio/shows/the-monocle-weekly/556/)

Tresilian Susannah: Leïla Slimani and Cat Person Author Kristen Roupenian  (The Guardian Books Podcast, 19 February 2019, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/audio/2019/feb/19/leila-slimani-and-cat-person-author-kristen-roupenian-books-podcast)

Radio

Hickman, Katy: Leïla Slimani on Sexual Politics (BBC, 24 Feburary 2020, available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000fpmj)

Leïla Slimani: un nouvel horizon pour la francophonie? (2ème partie; France Culture, 15 February 2018, available at: https://www.franceculture.fr/emissions/linvite-des-matins-2eme-partie/leila-slimani-un-nouvel-horizon-pour-la-francophonie-2eme-partie)

Leïla Slimani: un nouvel horizon pour la francophonie? (France Culture, 15 February 2018, available at: https://www.franceculture.fr/emissions/linvite-des-matins/leila-slimani-un-nouvel-horizon-pour-la-francophonie)

Leïla Slimani & Anne Baldassari: Collection et roman dévorants (France Culture, 25 October 2016, available at: https://www.franceculture.fr/emissions/ping-pong/leila-slimani-anne-baldassari-collection-et-roman-devorants)

Leïla Slimani et Alberto Manguel : quels personnages? (France Culture, 7 March 2020, available at: https://www.franceculture.fr/emissions/le-temps-des-ecrivains/leila-slimani-et-alberto-manguel)

Leïla Slimani sur les César: 'Une société est malade quand la justice n’est pas rendue' (France Inter, 2 March 2020, available at: https://www.franceinter.fr/emissions/l-invite-de-8h20-le-grand-entretien/l-invite-de-8h20-le-grand-entretien-02-mars-2020)

Leïla Slimani, l’altérité pour patrie (France Culture, 3 March 2020, available at: https://www.franceculture.fr/emissions/la-grande-table-culture/leila-slimani-lalterite-pour-patrie)

MacLeod, Torquil: French Writing and Politics (BBC, 17 January 2018, available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05v9306)

Voile, affaire Mennel: Leïla Slimani juge 'terrible de se retrouver l'esclave de ce que l'on a dit à 15 ans' (France Info, 13 February 2018, available at: https://www.francetvinfo.fr/culture/livres/voile-affaire-mennel-leila-slimani-juge-terrible-de-se-retrouver-l-esclave-de-ce-que-l-on-a-dit-a-15-ans_2608660.html)

Weatherald, Jerome: Leïla Slimani, Joe Cornish, Diane Arbus, Berlin Film Festival (BBC, 13 February 2019, available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0002h1g)

Littérature: 'Et toujours en éte', de Julie Wolkenstein, 'Le Pays des autres' de Leïla Slimani, 'Le Discours' de Fabrice Caro (France Culture, 5 March 2020 , available at: https://www.franceculture.fr/emissions/la-dispute/litterature-et-toujours-en-ete-de-julie-wolkenstein-le-pays-des-autres-de-leila-slimani-le-discours)

Leïla Slimani – Lullaby (BBC, 8 March 2020, avalable at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3csyx6j)

Compiled by Jessica Rushton (Durham)