Reach for that box of tissues. You are going to cry.
I fully acknowledge that I was late to the party with this book. For what seemed like years, I had seen it in Bookshop Santa Cruz and mentally labeled it ‘another war novel’. I approached The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah, somewhat jaded after the wonderful All The Light We Cannot See. Could any war novel ever quite compare to the beauty of that read? A friend had lent me Jodi Picoult’s latest offering, The Storyteller, which also covers this period and largely because I’ve never been sure about her books, I had really struggled to lose myself in it. My hairdresser, the lovely Ms M, had assured me that The Nightingale should not be approached as a war novel but rather a tale of sisterhood and that, as a consequence, I should persevere. She was right about the sisterhood, but wrong about the war. There’s no escaping that this story is firmly rooted in World War 2, but as with with All The Light We Cannot See, it’s an absolute classic.
Hannah’s story explores the lives of two, very different, sisters. The early death of their mother coupled with a father who displayed little emotion or interest in his children, shaped each girl profoundly. Vianne lives the quiet life in a small french village, with her daughter and husband. Isabelle by contrast is highly spirited and tired of the constraints of society, she needs to ‘do’ something and when the war arrives she sets about turning this into a reality.
The Nightingale is the type of book where you find yourself so absorbed that each time your look up, or reach for your cup of tea, you find yourself amazed not to be in war torn France. Having studied history, there are few books that I feel capture what the deprivation of that time must have been like for the average French citizen and yet with The Nightingale it’s all too easy to picture.
Alas I do have a warning for the reader of this book. Have your tissues at the ready! My final morning of reading, The Husband was out for one of his lengthy runs and the kids were still asleep, so I made myself a cup of coffee and settled down with this book. Approximately three hours later, I dragged myself from my bed, still sobbing to find the whole family, breakfasted, dressed and ready for action, whilst I stood there in PJs, unaware of the time and gasping about how everyone in the family had to read this story. None of them ever will, but goodness, how I loved it!