Oh boy, we all knew that a poor review would have to come sooner or later but who knew it would be so early in the year? I had heard such great things about The Nightingale and I’m a big historical fiction fan, so I really thought I would love this. It’s even got a 4.56 star rating on Goodreads – I usually trust those ratings so much!
Unfortunately, I think it’s the first ever historical fiction novel that I haven’t enjoyed (I use enjoyed as a loose term, I don’t mean to make light of the terrible time this novel is set in).
A quick synopsis from Wikipedia: The Nightingale tells the story of two sisters in France during World War II, and their struggle to survive and resist the German occupation of France.
I have to say, there were bits I liked. Many of the stories set in WW2 that I usually read don’t have much to do with children and I really liked hearing a little more about how children survived and what lengths those who cared for them would go to keep them safe.
Of course, many parts of the story are inspired by true things that happened in history and that’s what I really liked reading about – Isabelle’s story, in particular, is inspired by the story of Andrée de Jongh who helped Allied pilots escape Nazi territory. I love reading about these kind of stories – the stories we don’t hear about in history class and I love looking up the true stories afterwards to learn more. That was true about this book.
Other than that, I’m afraid, there was not much more that I enjoyed. I found both sisters to be pretty insufferable to listen to. The story was mostly slow where it shouldn’t have been slow and fast (and light on description) where I wanted to read more. I appreciate that most of Vianne’s story naturally was slow, but it took forever to get to plot points we all knew were coming. In the first chapter of the book Vianne’s husband goes away to fight and I was impressed at how quickly that happened, but that was the only time the timing surprised me by its speed.
To us as readers, it’s obvious pretty early on that Isabelle wasn’t an idiot and yet we had to listen to her moping about how everyone thought she was stupid and too beautiful to be of any use for the entire book – even after she had well and truly proven herself. I also hate Gaetan. I haven’t got a real reason to hate him. Hannah just didn’t do a good enough job of making me love him.
The flash forwards to modern day also did nothing for me. It was all built up for the final chapter which I found to be, once again, lacklustre. The only bit I reasonably enjoyed was trying to guess which sister was narrating the modern day chapters.
I’m really disappointed that I didn’t like it – it’s the first book of Kristin Hannah’s that I’ve read and I feel it might have put me off the rest of her books. It’s also put me off historical fiction (the WW2 kind) for a little bit. I think a break is required. Such a shame as I know so many people adore this book!
As for a rating, I keep flipping between 2 and 3 stars out of 5. 2 seems far too harsh while 3 seems to generous for how I really feel about it. I can’t come to a conclusion so I guess you’ll just have to read it for yourself and decide. Let me know what you thought about it!