Title: The Nightingale
Author: Kristin Hannah
Release Date: February 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Rating: 10/10 Perfection
Despite their differences, sisters Viann and Isabelle have always been close. Younger, bolder Isabelle lives in Paris while Vianne is content with life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. But when the Second World War strikes, Antoine is sent off to fight and Viann finds herself isolated so Isabelle is sent by their father to help her.
As the war progresses, the sisters’ relationship and strength is tested. With life changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Viann and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions.
It’s been a really long time since I read a book this good. I found myself getting really sad towards the end, not because of the story itself, just because I didn’t want it to end. (And because of the story, the story is really sad!). I really took my time with the first half of this book, taking nearly two weeks to get the the halfway point, but I managed to race through nearly 200 pages in a day to get it finished. I had only planned to read for an hour, but simply couldn’t put it down and had to get it finished.
I’ve read a lot of historical fiction, particularly that set during World War Two, but I’ve read very little set in France at this time. I did read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr earlier in the year, which is set at the same time, but looks at the war from an entirely different angle. In a way, it’s not about the war at all, at least not as a whole. That’s what made The Nightingale so good for me. I looked at the war in France both in Paris, and in a small countryside town. In school, and in other books, we are told a great deal about how the war affected Britain, Germany, Poland etc, but there is little on how it affected the ordinary people of France. I knew very little of the scale of Nazi occupation of France.
I really liked how the author tackled this difficult period in history. Nothing is romanticised, as is so often seen in (bad) historical fiction. This book is essentially about two sisters; one a mother, trying to survive an ordinary life in the small town of Carriveau, the other assisting the resistance by transporting Allied soldiers across the Pyrenees.
I really liked the use of Captain Beck, a German soldier who is to billet in their house at the beginning of the war. I think it’s important to show how not all Germans had the views of the Nazis. He is an ordinary soldier, fighting for his country and missing his family back home. This in contrast with other Nazi characters, really demonstrates the difference between the ordinary soldier and the SS.
As usual, I struggle to write about books I love. It’s so much easier to reel off all the reasons you hate a book, but there isn’t any of that here. My only slight criticism is the ending of the penultimate chapter, or the end of the 1940s section. I’ll not give anything away, but although I agree what happened should have happened, I didn’t like the way it did. You’ll understand if (WHEN!) you read it!
After putting this book off for far too long, I can only say I wish I’d read it as soon as I bought it. It really is historical fiction at its best, with wonderful characters and brilliant storytelling. I can’t wait to read more of Kristin Hannah, although I worry that whatever I read next can’t possibly be as good as this!