Disclosure: I received this book for free from SheSpeaks/St. Martin's Press.
The Nightingale is the story of two sisters caught up in the horror and chDisclosure: I received this book for free from SheSpeaks/St. Martin's Press.
The Nightingale is the story of two sisters caught up in the horror and chaos of the Nazi invasion of France during World War II.
Vianne, the elder by many years, is reserved, anxious, and fairly compliant. Her husband has gone to fight at the front, fate unknown, and she is left in their country home with their young daughter, Sophie. Her main concern is protecting her daughter and surviving the occupation.
Isabelle is Vianne’s polar opposite. Bold, passionate, and determined not to cower while her countrymen and women suffer under the heel of the Nazis, Isabelle wants to be a hero like Edith Cavell–to contribute to the war effort in any way possible. When she meets a mysterious and seductive stranger on the road to her sister’s house in Carriveau, Isabelle hopes he will take her with him to fight for France.
The juxtaposition of these two personalities and their response to the fearful and violent atmosphere of war is the driving force behind the novel. I like the way the author handles these characters–celebrating Isabelle’s exceptional bravery in the face of danger while also viewing Vianne’s more cautious approach with compassion. Each sister faces impossible circumstances and each evolves in their own way throughout the story.
I also like the way the story is framed. The book begins and ends in the mid-1990s when Vianne is an old woman living out her final days in America. These passages instill in the reader a sense of how war affects survivors long after the fighting has stopped. These short interludes in the present are the most authentic and emotionally charged parts of the novel.
This brings me to an aspect of the book that I did not like. The language of the story can be a bit overwrought at times. I have a very low tolerance for melodrama and “instalove”–which abounds in the romance at the center of the narrative.
The writing is decent but not exceptional. It feels unnecessarily dense at times and there are some sentences that I found myself re-writing in my head to compensate for the author’s verboseness.
Interestingly enough, Isabelle is closely based on a historical figure named Andree de Jongh, a Belgian woman who performed similar feats of heroism during the war. I noticed that a couple Amazon reviewers are disturbed that Hannah did not acknowledge this source of inspiration in the acknowledgments. I too am disappointed in this egregious oversight but am pleased that an author’s note has been added to the new paperback edition to correct it.
Historical fiction can be quite a hit-and-miss genre for me. The Nightingale is not what I would call literary fiction, but despite its shortcomings, I think it is an enjoyable and worthwhile read.
As a side note, The Nightingale is also great listening material. The audiobook is narrated by Polly Stone, who does an amazing job with all the voices and accents....more