Two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, living in France in the 1930s; Vianne is responsible, caring for her husband, child, and younger sister, while Isabelle is flighty and selfish. But war is on their doorstep and when Vianne’s husband must leave for the front, life changes for the two sisters as they find their place in war-torn France.
I’m not much of a fan of World War II-era novels. It takes a lot to convince me to pick one up; usually, it’s an author I trust not to lead me astray, which was the case with Kristin Hannah. The time period didn’t intrigue me, but I have enjoyed Hannah’s previous novels, and the fact that this was about sisters, a subject I do love? It was enough for me to give it a chance, and I’m so glad I did. The Nightingale drew me in from the very first pages, and I read it breathlessly and eagerly from cover to cover.
Vianne and Isabelle appear so different on the surface in The Nightingale, but they have so much in common that they don’t recognize. It’s the curse of sisters in many ways; you’re more alike than you are different, but often you can’t see those similarities that are right in front of you. Hannah writes them very well; they are each flawed, and they both think they’re weak. But wartime demands things we never would normally expect from ourselves, and it’s interesting to see how they each rise to the challenges before them, and how they succeed and fail in their own ways. The character development in this novel is really excellent.
If I had to pick one word to describe The Nightingale, it would be sweeping. It’s not that it covers a huge length of time (though the novel begins in the near-present and flashes back to reveal what happened and uncover the mystery of the past), but that these two women were heroes. That’s really what this novel is all about; the suffering people deal with in war is extraordinary, but ordinary in that everyone must undergo their own unique form of it. Everyone has an extraordinary story to tell; it’s ordinary people who were the heroes.
If you’re looking for a novel to really suck you in, especially if you’re coming off a reading slump or having difficulty finding something that captures your attention, give The Nightingale a try. Despite its 400+ page length, I read this cover to cover. I couldn’t put it down; I had to know what was going to happen to Vianne and Isabelle, to solve the mystery of the past and find out what was happening in the present. It’s very well done and is just another example of how great a storyteller Kristin Hannah is.
Other books by Kristin Hannah: