Book Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah ★★★

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“She was crying for it all at last–for the pain and loss and fear and anger, for the war and what it had done to her and to all of them, for the knowledge of evil she could never shake, for the horror of where she’d been and what she’d done to survive.”

Hmm I liked this book. I liked it, but it certainly wasn’t the best thing I have ever read and it didn’t really meet my expectations – expectations that were heightened because of all of the hype surrounding it. Overall, I would give the book 3 stars.

The Nightingale has been a Booktube favorite for as long as I have been watching videos on there. Everyone seems to love it, so I have had it on my radar for a while. I also love reading (or watching or learning) anything about World War II, so I was even more excited to give this book a try. When I found it at a thrift store for a good price, I just had to have it and read it right away.

Now this is a long book, about 570 pages, and I read it in a matter of a couple days. It is VERY readable. It is compelling and exciting, and has an air of mystery woven into the rest of the story that leaves you wanting to read more and more each time you pick it up. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel and I could hardly put it down.

However, there was a sense the whole time, as I was flying through it, that it shouldn’t be so easy for me to read. Maybe shouldn’t isn’t the right word, but I was wondering to myself why the book felt so “light” and “easy,” especially for a novel depicting the horrors of life in WWII France.

The whole time, I was feeling like the story was saying all of these terrible thing that were happening, but not really giving them the weight they deserve. They would mention atrocities, but somehow it just didn’t resonate with me like other books on the subject have. And I think, not that there is anything wrong with this sub-genre, that the whole story just read too “chick-lit” for me. The story was predictable in the way that it played out and how it was written, because it felt like it was hitting those required emotional triggers in a book written for women. It felt almost as if Hallmark decided to make a movie about sisterly bonds and romance, and just thought 1940’s France would be a good backdrop for the story. Wartime is sad and emotional and has action; it’ll make for some good scenes.

I know this was not the author’s intention, but since she does primarily write chick-lit, this felt like just another addition to the collection. This one just happened to take place during WWII.

I am not trying to be harsh, because I do think the author had good intentions and she was trying to bring light to the often-overlooked roles that women had in the war. She based one of her main characters on real-life, female war hero. She was paying homage to these women and that is very important and admirable. Personally, I just did not feel like their stories were handled in a way that fully translates what they went through.

Everything felt too light. It was written too fluffy, too cliche. It was tragic, yes, but in a typical way that just played on your emotions, as the author knew it would. The writing was very melodramatic, which was one of my biggest complaints. You don’t need to embellish how horrific times and events were during the war. You don’t need to make every bad thing ever that happened during the war happen to the characters in your book. It made it feel less authentic. She also made everything circle back to love, which of course, is a concept, a feeling, a connection that is beyond important. It can be the only thing keeping you alive and I GET THAT. But, here, it made the whole story feel like a love story with some war scenes added in for flare.

Isabelle was based on a real woman, Andrée de Jongh, who was part of the Belgium Resistance and saved downed airmen by leading them over the Pyranees mountains, just as the character did in the book. But, the author gave Isabelle a bunch of traits and motivations that detracted from her real-life inspiration and made her seem completely unrealistic. She was in love with a man she had known for a couple days, who initially rejected her very strange declaration of love (but only because he was protecting her, of course) at first, and that basically fuels her entire story/character journey. It just didn’t strike me as true and I did not have a connection to the characters or their stories, beyond a “this is exciting and I want to see what happens” kind of way. Like, I get love being a motivating factor that we can all relate to, but how can I believe she was sooo in love with this guy she knew for like 2 days?? And him too. It seems almost offensive to take the true story of this amazing historical figure and turn it into a cheesy wartime romance drama. The ending especially, not the part set in 1995 – that scene was actually very touching – but the ending given to one of the characters was just….cheesy unfortunately.

Vianne’s story was equally tragic and melodramatic and predictable. I was not a fan of how she kept so many secrets from the people she loved, as if she knew what was best for them and decided what people needed to know. I get that she was trying to protect her family, and then later herself, but it still rubbed me the wrong way that she would basically just lie by omission all the time. I really enjoyed the scenes between her and her daughter Sophie, as they were poignant and heartbreaking. It was interesting to see how the war was affecting the young children who were growing up in such times.

The writing also tripped me up sometimes, because there were many anachronisms throughout, which I can forgive an author who does not primarily write historical fiction. However, a lot of that was due to how she made her main characters, Vianne and Isabelle, behave, act, and speak. They felt like modern women thrust into this time period and it was sometimes very obvious that they did not belong and that the author was just trying to write them as strong female characters from this era. The book was very heavy on the “written by a woman for women to celebrate women” sentiment.

Also, her dialogue was rather awkward, her narration was constantly telling us how to view something or what the characters were thinking, etc. etc., instead of showing us, and her similes were just plain not good. Every time she stuck a strange comparison/simile into the story, I was like huh?? That’s such a weird thing to compare. It pulled me right out of the story. Additionally, she had some glaring inconsistencies within the basic story and plot. The ages of the characters were written wrong once, sometimes the weather would just completely change within the same paragraph (“sweating from the heat” and then “shivering with the cold”), a character would be in one room and then suddenly be in another with no transition. They’d have no money and then somehow be on a train. They’d talk about how dangerous and impossible something was and then 100 pages later, they’d be doing that exact thing with no explanation. It was confusing and just seemed poorly planned out. It definitely did bring the overall believability and credibility of the story down for me.

Despite my complaints about the novel, I really did enjoy reading it. It was so fast-paced and very easy to just fly through. It kept me so engaged throughout the whole story. I definitely appreciated this look at a side of the war that is not often explored, the occupation of France from the French people’s perspective, especially women. This story is very important in that it does highlight the essential role that women played in the war. It is something that I love to read about and would love to learn more about. This was a great look at their stories; it just read a little too much like chick-lit to me, versus a more serious or literary exploration of the topic.

I’d be okay with getting octopus rations every day, but I felt bad for the humans getting it.

What were your thoughts on this one? Let me know below!

Thank you for reading!

Title: The Nightingale
Author: Kristin Hannah
Genre: Fiction | Historical Fiction| France | WWII | Romance
Publication Date: February 3rd, 2015
Page Count: 567 pages
Buy It: Wordery Book Depository

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