The Nightingale is the story of two French sisters, Viann and Isabelle, who learn to survive in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. Both women experience pretty horrific atrocities and, of course, are forever changed because of it.
I loved that this book made me FEEL something. Sometimes I loved it, other times I thought it was a bit contrived–but I was never, never bored. The story, overall, is engaging and creative; it surprised me, which I always appreciate. I teared up more than once. Hannah definitely knows how to paint a vivid and horrifying picture of war, I will give her that.
But I do have one criticism. The first half of this book confused me. I had a hard time figuring out what kind of story Hannah was going for. On the one hand, we have Germans invading France causing thousands of refugees to flee and destroy everything in their path. People are panicked, famished, bloodied. Some are dying on the side of the road. Toddlers are crying over their dead mothers’ bodies. But, then, in the midst of this chaos, one of our main characters professes her undying love and devotion to a recently-released gruff, smelly prisoner whom she has known for, like, three days. Huh? It was hard for me to believe that such a hot and bothered love connection was developing between these two characters when they were, you know, starving. Even more disappointing, though, it was hard for me to take this allegedly strong, independent, headstrong female character seriously.
Unfortunately, these awkward moments of sexual tension in the midst of pain and suffering sprouted up quite often in the first couple hundred pages or so of this book. There were a few points when I actually wondered if The Nightingale was a quasi-romance novel. It was just weird.
Thankfully, the second half of the book was much stronger than the first. The characters seemed to settle in a bit, like they finally knew who they were. They became much more realistic and believable. Viann, especially, became infinitely more interesting to me–so much less like the caricature she was in the beginning. I almost wish that Hannah had scrapped or shortened or at least edited the first half of this book so that there wasn’t so much time wasted getting to the real meat and potatoes of the story.
Still, despite the various slightly contrived love tangents, I did enjoy The Nightingale overall. The story was creative and engaging, and I grew to really love the characters. This one ended up being a very satisfying read.