Monday, January 15, 2018

The Case of the Homicidal Nanny

I find this all to be more than passing strange. Canadian journalist Isabel Vincent, a woman who has written several books based on real events, especially real crimes, criticizes French novelist Leila Slimani for having written a novel based on a real event.

Slimani’s novel, The Perfect Nanny is about to appear in English translation. It has already been a sensation in France, garnering the author important prizes and massive sales. The book takes its “inspiration,” if you want to call it that, from a New York murder case. A nanny entrusted with the care of two small children from the Krim family... up and murdered both of them one day.

Vincent offers her misguided opinion:

Leila Slimani’s novel “The Perfect Nanny” has become a global bestseller, winning critical acclaim for its young Moroccan-French author. It’s a well-told tale written in sparse, economical prose — a gripping read that hit US shelves last week.

But its premise left me cold, partly because Slimani, writing from her Parisian aerie, capitalized on a real-life New York family’s actual horror — the bloody and senseless murder of two young children.

Slimani, 36, said she was inspired by the horrific deaths of Lucia and Leo Krim, the two young children who were found stabbed in the blood-soaked bathtub of their well-appointed Upper West Side apartment a few days before Halloween in 2012. Their nanny, Yoselyn Ortega, was charged with their murder, and her trial could begin shortly after her next court appearance on Jan. 22.

Note the word choice. Vincent, who writes about crime stories, accuses Slimani of having capitalized on a murder. If Slimani had reported the facts of the case-- instead of having written a novel-- would that have meant that she was or was not capitalizing.

Vincent notes that the novel does not directly report the events, but takes inspiration from them… much as an artist might draw a cityscape or a landscape or a true crime story or the image of Kronos devouring one of his sons. For the record, the last was by Francisco Goya.

The statement is completely ignorant. While Vincent mumbles something about how novelists should be free to write about what they please, she has accused a novelist of exploiting grief for personal gain. Might one say that same about any journalist who covers bad news or of any artist who creates a work based on a horrific crime?

Apparently, Vincent is especially upset that Slimani has made a lot of money  from writing her novel. Slimani also now advises President Macron on literary matters.

Therefore, Vincent, self-appointed armchair psychiatrist, believes that Slimani should feel guilty for profiting from someone else’s tragedy.

And yet, Slimani did not write about the tragedy directly. She reset it in Paris. She was inspired, if that is the word, by the tragedy. Vincent is still upset by it all:

Does she feel any guilt for benefiting from such a painful event?

Slimani shrugged off the question and said she was focused on the relationship of the nanny with the professional couple — Myriam and Paul — in the novel. She claims only to have used the Krim tragedy as a jumping off point for her book.

But the fictional characters are eerily similar to real life. Although the setting is Paris’ elegant 9th Arrondissement in May instead of Manhattan in October, the fictional professional couple treat Louise, their middle-aged nanny, in much the same way the Krims did — with great care, taking her on a family vacation and bragging to friends that they had hired the modern equivalent of Mary Poppins.

So what. What if they are similar to real life. Slimani is a novelist. She has what we call artistic license. The story was compelling and she made it into what is apparently a very good book Shouldn’t we praise her accomplishment rather than resent it?

Why don’t women support other women? Why does a woman who writes about real life tragedies attack another woman for writing a novel about a real life tragedy? Is it all about book sales and material success?

Or is it simply the fact that Slimani is also young and beautiful?

This author is cashing in on a real-life NYC tragedyImage result for leila slimani
This author is cashing in on a real-life NYC tragedy
This author is cashing in on a real-life NYC tragedy


Mark In Mayenne said...

Undertakers, they're the worst

trigger warning said...

Truman Capote, call your office.

Jack Fisher said...

from the original article:

"Novelists are free to write about whatever they want, but is there a moral responsibility here? Should Slimani perhaps donate even a small part of her profits to the Lulu and Leo Fund, the foundation the Krims set up to help other families and to honor the memory of their slain children?"

a public donation might open up the author to a lawsuit for defamation or invasion of privacy. intellectual property law is tricky. that's why there's the usual disclaimer in fiction, "a disclaimer: “This is a work of fiction. All characters and incidents are products of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual people or events is coincidental or fictionalized.” The closer the author identifies to the real people or events (such as a public donation to the Krims), the more danger of a suit.

otherwise, the Post article seems like an instance of professional jealousy or virtue signaling, in other words, a catfight.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you for clarifying the legal aspect of the issue!

Sam L. said...

I take it other readers of this column will think this: "Damn! She thought of that before I did! I am sooooooo angry!