Even though this is my (gasp!) first book review of 2016 (gulp!), it’s actually the 15th book I’ve read…
My mom and I don’t really share similar tastes in books. I’m more mystery, horror, true crime. She tends to like feel good books. So when she suggested I read Kristin Hannah’s new(ish) book, The Nightingale, I couldn’t say no. Especially since everyone who came into the library was raving about how good it was.
Without further ado…a second look!
St. Martin’s Press
The Basics: Told in dual points-of-view, the story chronicles two French sisters during the German occupation of World War II. There are also snippet chapters told in 2005 from one of the sisters. (I won’t tell you who, because that’s a surprise.)
Vianne Mauriac bids her husband farewell when he enlists to help the French fight against the invading Germans. She keeps hope that her husband will return to her shortly. But her hopes are dashed when the Germans begin occupying the small town of Carriveau, where she lives with her daughter. Even worse, her house is billeted by a German office, Captain Beck. (Spoiler: Beck is actually a pretty good guy, as far as German Nazis go.)
Dianne’s younger sister, Isabelle, is strong-headed (often to a fault). After she is kicked out of another boarding school, she returns to Paris to live with her father, who hasn’t paid much attention to her since her mother’s death nearly 17 years earlier. When the Germans begin to occupy France, he sends Isabelle to live with Vianne and Sophie.
Vianne is quiet, shy, and tries to keep her head down. She doesn’t want to cause trouble for herself, or especially her daughter, Sophie. However, as quiet as she is, her sister is loud and outspoken with her dislike of the Nazis. Isabelle soon leaves Carriveau for Paris, where she joins the Underground French Resistance (Free France).
For the majority of the novel, the action comes with Isabelle. She actively helps transport fallen Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain and the British Consulate.
Vianne’s battles are more internal and mental. She fights to keep Sophie and herself alive and out of trouble. She fights to keep hope of her husband’s return. (He’s been taken as a prisoner of war by the Germans early in the novel.) However, things really start to move towards the last 100-150 pages of the novel when Beck no longer inhabits her home and a high ranking SS officer moves into Vianne’s home.
Thoughts: I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but still give you, Dear Readers, an honest opinion of the novel.
That being said, I texted my mom as I was nearing the end of the novel with:
By the time I finished, I was like this:
(Disclaimer: By the end, there IS a happy and satisfying ending. And I also bought cookies for my comfort food.)
This is my first Kristin Hannah novel, so I’m not used to her writing style. I did love it. The prose flowed easily and the characters were engaging and life-like. There were some amazingly poetic lines that Hannah slips into her prose, which I loved. I wish I would have written down some of those lines. However, one memorable one is on page 1:
If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.
Actually, it’s the very first line of the novel. What a way to intrigue the reader!
Okay, moving on.
Characters: Vianne and Isabelle are extremely well-developed. They have a realistic sisterly relationship. Vianne is so much older than Isabelle, which paired with their father’s abandonment, adds a lot to the story that is being told. In V, Hannah has created a cautious wife and mother who just wants to keep her head down until the war is over. However, as the war continues and things become harder, V has to make hard choices. The character development is solid and leads the reader easily follow how V grows and makes hard choices. Never once did I not empathize with her. There were several times at the end of the novel that I was tearing up because of her…
Isabelle is an amazing heroine. She strives to be strong and to do whatever she can (without really thinking of the consequences) to help France during the German occupation. She doesn’t think of the risks much, but dives head first into the Free France movement. She’s impetuous and hot-headed, which often gets her into trouble. She’s a great foil to her sister, definitely. By the end of the novel, she too has changed greatly. Where V has become bolder and stronger, Isabelle could be said to be a little weaker and more world-weary.
The supporting characters were just as well-drawn. I don’t want to spend too much time talking about them, especially Herr Captain Beck, who’s integral to the story. But I’m afraid I’ll give away some of the plot if I talk about him.
Plot: I do love a good historical fiction piece. However, this story went beyond that. It starts with the onset of World War II in Europe (specifically France), and goes through the Allied Liberation and Hitler’s suicide. It’s a lengthy novel, but Hannah does a great job of moving through time easily and letting the reader feel that passing of time. I never once felt confused about how much time had passed.
Like the characters, the plot is seamless. It flows easily. The intersections of “present day” (2005) work really well. It was a nice break from the heaviness of being so inserted in German-occupied France, too.
Again, I’m not going to spend too much time talking about the plot. I gave a basic overview above and I’ll leave it at that. I’m a little afraid to spoil things, and this is one of those novels that you really just don’t want spoiled. (Even for me, who loves spoilers!)
As noted above, the novel had my crying. But, it did have a really great ending. The tears were genuine because of what Hannah wrote, the imagery she created, and the harsh realities of World War II at the height of the Nazis ruthlessness. I applaud Hannah for making me cry, really.
Mom’s book group read this and she said, “There has never been a louder and longer book club meeting.” So, if you’re looking for a good book club book…
Okay, so finally — the rating:
Only because it was so good, it can’t go any less. It’s not one of my OMG FAVORITE BOOKS EVER, but it’s really freaking good. And it should win the awards.
In the meantime, I went to Barnes & Noble and bought happy books…