“In love we find out who we want to be. In war we find out who we are.”
The Nightingale is a beautifully crafted historical novel about two sisters, separated by their differences and brought together by war. Their experiences during the Nazi occupation of France force them to see each other, and themselves, in a completely new and forgiving light. I love sister stories, and this one had me gripped from the first page and staring into space for quite a few moments after the last page.
I haven’t got on board with any of Hannah’s previous novels, which is why I hesitated (for two years) in picking up The Nightingale.
I do enjoy historical fiction as long as it doesn’t get bogged down in detail or become a slave to small, insignificant facts. I want to be moved by truth, but also the story. That sometimes means using creative licence to evoke a particular emotion. I bring this up as Hannah has been criticised for lack of research, unrealistic narrative and clichéd writing. For, example, I read three reviews where the readers were annoyed because Vianne and Antoine, on their postman/school teacher wages, could not have realistically afforded their picturesque property. But, their lovely home and garden added a beauty to the novel and provided a contrast to pre-war and occupied rural France, so it didn’t bother me in the slightest.
I enjoy a good time-shift and Hannah deftly handled the moving between past and present, ensuring that I was invested enough in the present to care about the past. It was clear and added to the story seamlessly rather than jarring like some time-shift books can be.
I thought Hannah’s language for the most part was wonderful and evocative. It was a little flowery in parts, and there were clichés, but the storyline moved along nicely, the characters were engaging and their inner and outer development was well done. It was a reflective read and I often found myself wondering what I would do in a given situation. I think that was probably Hannah’s intention.
The Nightingale will stay with me for some time. I have immense appreciation for authors who can take harrowing true stories and weave them together with fiction to create a journey that leaves us asking questions of ourselves. The novel was tied up perfectly with an ending that, even though I did see coming, was hugely satisfying.
Kristin Hannah, keep writing stories like these and we can put aside our past differences.
You can read more about Kristin Hannah’s books and current projects at her website.