Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
This book is constantly mentioned as the go-to recommendation when it comes to historical fiction. I bought into the hype and have now had this sat on my shelves for a year. Something about it had me questioning whether or not it would be up my street, but I am happy to say I am now one of those people that will keep recommending this fantastic novel.
Set in France 1939, The Nightingale follows two sisters who live through the war in very different ways. First we have Vianne, the rule abiding mother who has her home occupied by Nazi's, scared whilst her loving husband is in a prisoner of war camp. Her town is taken over and she must struggle to survive and protect her children. Then younger sister Isabelle, who is beautiful yet rebellious, who yearns to join the Resistance after falling in love with a fellow member. She countlessly risks her life to save others. Their opposing storylines are intricately and beautifully weaved together. I am always nervous to read a book that is so highly regarded; especially one that is from a genre I am sceptical about. WWII historical fiction is generally something I have enjoyed on many occasions but may have a tendency to be repetitive. Unlike other popular novels of the Genre, such as Birdsong or Private Peaceful, The Nightingale does not follow the soldiers fighting on the front lines. Similarly, unlike books such as The Tattooist of Auschwitz or The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Vianne and Isabelle are not Jewish so this is not a major part of the story. We are instead following two women who are citizens of France and therefore endure different forms of suffering during the war. Perhaps things thats are often forgotten about as it does not measure up to what happened in concentration camps or to members of the army.
Despite this feeling less connected to what I have learnt and read about when it comes to the war, I thought this book was utterly fantastic and moving in every regard.
Both Vianne and Isabelle were fully realised characters; neither were perfect and both made mistakes. However, their integrity and the readers desire to feel a continuous support for them was undeniable throughout the whole novel. Admittedly, at the beginning of the book, both of the sisters came across as being obvious sibling rivalry stereotypes: the beautiful rebel and the plain, meeker one of the two. However, as the book progresses, you truly get a sense of the multiple dimensions to their personalities and how the relationships they have with one another and various characters in the story has many ups and downs.
Given the importance of this story, I was initially concerned with how much romance was going to be featured in the novel. The focus should be on the relationship between the sisters, as well as the traumatic and terrible things that happened during the war. Luckily, the romantic elements were very tactically weaved into the story and at no point did it feel like they were overpowering the more important and emotionally rich themes.
My only criticism of the book was I felt that some elements were romanticised and unrealistic which took away slightly from the natural emotional impact that should be felt reading a book that is based around WWII and the holocaust. However, the story is undeniably moving and I couldn't fault the writing as it was exceptional! If you are looking for a hard-hitting read, or a good WWII historical fiction, I would absolutely recommend The Nightingale.