“The Confession”
by Leïla Slimani
translated from the French by Sam Taylor
From the February 18 & 25, 2019 issue of The New Yorker

Leïla Slimani is a young novelist from Morocco who won the prestigious Prix Goncourt in 2016 for her second novel The Perfect Nanny (or Lullaby in the United Kingdom). I haven’t read it, but I definitely heard a lot about it last year. Penguin followed it up by publishing her debut novel Adèle this past month. I’m curious if any of you have read either book and what you thought.

Of course, we’re here right now for the story in The New Yorker. “Here is how “The Confession” begins:

I can’t tell you my name. Or the name of the rural village where this story took place. My father is a feared and respected man there, and I do not want to bring shame upon him. He was born on those fertile plains but he made his career in the city, where he became an important man who wears suits and drives a big car. In my sixteenth summer, he sent me to “that hole” to learn the hard life of the countryside, to strengthen my soul and my muscles. “I don’t want you to be like those idle boys who wander our streets,” he told me. “There you will learn how to live.”

Knowing only what her two novels that have been translated are focused on (you can look them up), I’m wondering where “The Confession” will go and who here will think it worth the trip. Please comment below and discuss what you thought of the story or of Slimani’s novels.

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By |2019-02-11T15:33:51-04:00February 11th, 2019|Categories: Leïla Slimani, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: , |10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. micheleframe February 11, 2019 at 8:10 pm

    I gave The Perfect Nanny 3 stars. It seems like it didn’t capture my attention. I don’t remember anything about it which is a bad sign.

  2. Romy Paris February 12, 2019 at 12:15 pm

    Obviously I missed something as I regarded the Perfect Nanny as childish, predictable and an insult to the Goncourt leaving me no desire to read the short story in my New Yorker, for free even.

  3. David February 13, 2019 at 9:18 am

    Overall this was a very disappointing story. It is interesting that in the interview Sliimani says there was some backlash when the story was published in French because it seemed to humanize the rapist, but I didn’t see anything in this story that did not sound exactly as one would expect it to sound as a story told by someone who did a terrible thing and years later regrets it. That it was something he did when he was sixteen, not as an adult, and at the urging of an older man makes it also something more easily understandable as something he would later regret, and thus less remarkable as a story subject. Anyone who has heard any stories of people who used to be in gangs and committed murder and other serious crimes and who have since reformed or has heard former KKK members who now are strongly anti-racist talk about their pasts or the stories of men who were domestic abusers or even have listened to some people talking about their pre-metoo actions (especially the “back when I was in college” stories) won’t find anything in here that says anything new about the perspective of an abusive person.
    .
    Aside from its subject matter, there isn’t anything special about the writing here either. It’s competent, but nothing about it stands out. I am reminded of Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s “As You Would Have Told It to Me (Sort Of) If We Had Known Each Other Before You Died” from September 2017 as a story that, while I wasn’t wild about it, at least it tried to present a unique way of telling the story of an abusive person. I also am reminded of an episode of the TV series L.A. Law from thirty years ago. I have not been able to track the episode down despite numerous attempts, but at the time it was broadcast I remember it having a profound impact on me. It was from the days when “date rape” was a very new concept and many people (my self included) found it difficult to understand the idea that was being suggested that a man could rape a woman and not even know that it had been rape. It seemed obvious that of course he would know if he were raping someone. Then along came this episode.
    .
    The story begins with the lawyers talking about a guy who will be coming in later who one of them is defending against a rape accusation. They all know this guy and think he’s a good guy and he says the accusation is nonsense and the sex was consensual. When he comes in, they ask him to tell them what happened. He starts to tell the story, which includes her being reluctant to have sex with him (at first) and him having to be a bit persistent to persuade her in ways it seems clear that he sees as normal and non-rapey. By the time he gets to the end of the story it is clear to the lawyers (and the audience) that he is, in fact, guilty of rape, but he is also quite sincere in his belief that it was consensual. It was a powerful and important way of getting inside his mind, telling the story from his perspective, to show how something like this really was possible.
    .
    That TV episode changed the way I understood rape and rapists. This story not only does not do anything remotely like this, it does not even seem that Slimani really has the imagination to step into the shoes of a rapist and tell us something we don’t already know.

  4. William February 16, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    I’m breaking protocol by commenting on another story here. I re-read “Seeing Ershadi” by Nicole Krauss, for reasons that I won’t go into. I don’t know how I felt about it when I first read it, or what other people thought, because I don’t know how to find that thread. Anyway, I don’t want to read what I or others said then. I only want to say one thing — I now think that this story is absolutely brilliant. I’m not going to explain why I feel that way, because I can’t.. It’s just my intuitive response. It feels like the story connects all the mysteries of the universe without solving them.

  5. David February 16, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    William, for future reference, in case you do want to check comments on any story from the past, there is a link at the top of the page that says “Book and Story Reviews”. If you hover over it you should get a drop-down menu with two items, the second one being “Index of The New Yorker Fiction. Click on that and you get to a list of the stories with links to the discussions.
    .
    I have found a quick way to find any one discussion is just putting the name of the story plus the word “Mookse” into google and it should come up as the top result. The author name plus “Mookse” in google also works pretty well.

  6. William February 16, 2019 at 9:24 pm

    Thanks for those suggestions, David. I’ll put them in a place where I can find them in future.

  7. Ken February 23, 2019 at 5:30 am

    I am also very unimpressed with this. Artless and stylistically dull with no insight and the nightmare at the end was particularly unconvincing. First, it was far too lucid–which is often the case with nightmares in literature or films–and second it’s a cheap device. That the New Yorker put this in their double anniversary issue is a real bummer.

  8. Diana Cooper February 26, 2019 at 2:46 pm

    I have to agree with those who were unimpressed with the story. It’s a shopworn tale at best and the writing doesn’t lift it above anything beyond that. Whether it was written by Joe Johnson from Yonkers or by Gerhard Grause and translated from the German into English, or Sliiman’s story (translated from the French). it’s still just an old oft-told tale of youthful ignorance, sexual abuse and later regret. I’ve read many such takes on this theme over the years, and I found little that was different or enlightening in Sliimani’s version.

  9. mehbe February 28, 2019 at 11:11 am

    Okay, I think somebody has got to say something good about this story, so I’ll try. Although I agree it was not particularly good writing, I did think the specifics of the point of view in that particular Moroccan environment were interesting, and somewhat disturbing. And the fact that the main character had to move into a Western environment before having the guilt-induced dream was also interesting. I’m thinking if he had stayed in Morocco, he never would have had a dream of that sort.

    But yes, I can imagine a far better story coming from the same ideas.

  10. Larry Bone March 13, 2019 at 7:21 am

    Maybe the best way to understand this story is that it is admission of despair alone the lines of the French existentialists. Life has no meaning, people have no meaning and noone can do anything much for themselves or anyone else so one is just born goes on their journey, takes what they can get and dies. Everything is drab, miserable and boring and pointless, especially in a hot, humid environment with no ac and little or no water. Is that a valid theme for a short story? If anyone ever feels that way, than maybe the good part of this story is that it is expressed.

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