Thanks SheSpeaks for a review copy of The Nightingale.
Setting: WWII, in France. Two sisters, Isabelle and Vianne, have their lives forever upended due to the war. Would you like to follow their lives during the war years? That’s what you’ll get in The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.
This book is everywhere lately. It’s a huge best-seller, and in many ways I can see why. First (and shallowly, perhaps), it has a great cover. The gold-embossed nightingale superimposed on the Eiffel Tower image is just cool. Plus, it’s a war book focused on two women. And women are the PC superheroes of our day. I kind of hate that it’s come to this, because in reality, there are a whole lot of heroic women out there, just daily doing their thing. But at this point in history, the way to make that point seems to be to shout it out in an in-your-face way. This book scores there too.
The Nightingale is a detailed book, at over 400 pages. Scenes are described fully, and I felt immersed in WWII France. When I think of WWII, I think more of Germany. I knew that it was partly fought in France, but I hadn’t really fleshed out the details of that. This book helps in that way, not so much in describing particular battles (there’s none of that at all, thankfully), but in explaining how daily life in an occupied village felt. I understand a little more about the “feel” of life in WWII France after reading The Nightingale.
You know how some books set in another country feature sentences here and there in the language of that country? Yeah, I dislike that too 🙂 This book didn’t have that, but did feature the word “oui” over and over and over … this actually amused me after a while.
The two sisters at the center of the book are opposites: Isabelle, the fiery, brave activist, and Vianne, the fearful, dutiful mom. Most readers will probably relate to one, while still cheering for the other.
As I broach into this part, please realize that I’m in a distinct minority on not absolutely loving this book. A huge majority of its readers have given it the highest rating possible. Me? I felt it was average. I can’t really give you a specific problem I had with it, other than that it just didn’t capture me. As mentioned earlier, there was a lot of description. Something like “Vianne tiptoed slowly into the barn, where the warm aroma of hay, newly mown from sunkissed fields in her papa’s farm, reached her nostrils with the comforting scent of a time gone by.” It was just too much about too little, and I found myself skim-reading large portions just to get through. Although the setting is wartime, not a lot really seemed to happen. I was obligated to read the book in order to review it, but I had to keep forcing myself to get through. That’s not a good thing.
Also, many parts felt a little cliched and overdone. The last 25% or so of the book just seemed like the author threw in every awful thing she’d ever heard about the war: (spoiler alert) an assault by a Nazi officer. The women’s dad being killed in a horrific way. One sister being tortured and sent to a concentration camp, then shortly after there was a death march to yet another camp. Another sister having a child taken from her. I was almost expecting Herr Hitler himself to show up and put an end to one of the women.
From reviews, I’d read about a great twist at the end of the book. I kept slogging along with this in mind. And then — the book ended. I’m not actually sure what was supposed to be the twist, but I guess whatever it was, I’d figured it out earlier because nothing stood out to me.
So, would you enjoy The Nightingale? Most likely, yes. Read it and let me know what you think, because as I’ve said, the vast majority of readers just love it. And really, that’s the great thing about books. There are so many out there that there is truly something for everyone!