By: Kristin Hannah
After hearing all the hype about The Nightingale, my grandmother gave me this book as a gift.
Out of respect, I read it dutifully, though I usually steer far clear of contemporary best sellers.
I can’t totally discount this book, and in fact, I think it’s got a.lot. going for it. It’s a feminist take on Occupied France in World War II. It tells a story not often heard in America, about the struggles of France – not Germany, not just the Jews – during World War II. It’s jam packed with historicity and family and concentration camps and Nazism and longing and resilience and love and all kinds of crazy things.
It’s told through the viewpoint of two sisters: Isabelle Rossignol and Vianne Mauriac. Kristin Hannah juxtaposes the two relentlessly: Isabelle is feisty and impulsive, Vianne is timid and settled.
Honestly, that kind of blanket juxtaposition is shallow for me. It’s obvious and cheap, and it does anything but keep you guessing. Not good.
While we’re talking about things I don’t like about this book: Hannah’s writing style. Sorry. She’s not my favorite. She’s endlessly repetitive, which is one of my deal breaker criteria for good writing. Because the story switches back and forth between Isabelle and Vianne, you sometimes get the same information literally on back-to-back pages. Vom… Don’t waste my time.
And, while we all know I’m a fairly proud feminist, I do. not. like. when it’s used soooo obviously. We get it. Vianne and Isabelle are women, and they did amazing things for women, and women have been systematically erased from history. I know that. Show me that; don’t flat tell me it to my face. Make me feel it; don’t shove it at me.
I also don’t like when characters are used for convenience. You can’t have a character be a major part of life when it serves the story line, disappear for CHAPTERS, and then reappear when you need a Jewish person. (Cough cough – this is a book that deals closely with the Holocaust, so that trait becomes wildly important for like… two pages.)
I also hate rosy-glasses-style nostalgia. Like this passage from Chapter 14:
I know these modern seat belts are a good thing, but they make me feel claustrophobic. I belong to a generation that didn’t expect to be protected from every danger.
I remember what it used to be like, back in the days when one was required to make smart choices. We knew the risks and took them anyway.
Be my guest, return to the good ol’ days and die in a car accident.
Give me a break.
Yikes. This review got negative, fast. For clarification, I did not hate this book. I didn’t even dislike this book. I dislike Hannah’s writing style, maybe, but this is a wildly intriguing, powerful tale.
I can so see why people are raving about it. But I know we’ve all seen those reviews, so I wanted to point out that it’s not perfect.
Doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading.
Fan of The Nightingale? Here are some similar books:
(for feminist historical fiction)
Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland
The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner
Meridian by Alice Walker
Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
(for more about the Holocaust)
Night by Elie Wiesel
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
(for books about WWII)
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
(for more by Hannah)
Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
Home Front by Kristin Hannah
Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah
Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Ground Rules by Renee Swann