Book Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

TheNightingaleCoverReview: The Nightingale is a good, powerful WW2 book that is really a story about women during the war: the women who stayed home and their daily battles for food and survival, and the women who actively became involved in the Resistance and their struggles for survival. The Nightingale tells the story of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle. Vianne is the older sister, married with a daughter. She is more responsible and level headed. Isabelle is the younger sister, almost 19, and is headstrong and very spirited. Needless to say, the sisters don’t get along. When the war breaks out, Isabelle becomes involved in getting downed pilots out of France, across the Pyrenees and into the safety of Spain. Vianne is living in the Loire Valley, and has to deal with a German captain staying in her home. The two sisters are very different, and take different courses of action in order to stay alive.

I liked both sisters, but I enjoyed Vianne’s story more. I could identify some with Vianne, in being the responsible one, and she was more likeable (for me). There also was more internal tension in Vianne’s story, whereas Isabelle’s story contained a lot of action. Isabelle also just really irritated me at the beginning of the book, as she had this attitude of “I’m so pretty so I can get away with anything”, and that was really annoying to read constantly at the beginning. So, I started out disliking Isabelle, but I grew to like her more as the story went on and she grew up.

When I first started the book, I wasn’t sure that I was hooked. The book has a full five stars rating on Amazon, so I was expecting to immediately be drawn in and love this story. It took me at least until halfway through to start “feeling” the book and caring about the characters. But, oh, by the end I was crying and was connected to the characters. And since I was reading it on a plane, I was trying to cry silently and not alarm the stranger sitting next to me (not easy to do!).

There is one action by one of the sisters that really puzzled me, it happens about halfway through the book, and I’m still contemplating it and running it through my mind. I’m not going to spoil it here, but it shifted where I thought the story was going, and it surprised me, but I’m not sure I liked the shift. It seemed to come out of nowhere.

I think this book would be a good book club choice as there would be much to discuss. And if we were closer to my own book club selection time I would choose this as my selection for the month! But I’m several months away, and there are so many great books out there, so time will tell if I choose it.

There is a little bit of back and forth in time, as there are some chapters that take place in 1995 on the Oregon coast, and you aren’t sure exactly who is narrating until the end of the book, and I really liked the ending of the book and how everything came together.  The Nightingale is also full of information that you may not have heard before. It talks about France’s treatment of Jews during WW2, which I was unaware of until I read Sarah’s Key, and it was a good focus on how women at home had to survive during the war.

Bottom Line: Slightly disappointed in this, due to all of the hype. I’ve read better WW2 books, but this was definitely a very good read, and I appreciated the focus on women during wartime. This would be an excellent choice for a book club.

Other WW2 books you might like to read:

  • Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay: Tells the story of Sarah, a Jew living in Paris at the start of WW2, and the story of Julia, in modern day Paris, who investigates the previous occupants of her apartment.
  • A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell: This may be the best fictional WW2 book I’ve read (so far!). It takes place in Italy, and follows many characters. It has one of the most beautiful/haunting last chapters I’ve ever read.
  • The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer: A beautiful love story that is set in Hungary during WW2. This book was full of new information for me about Hungary’s role in WW2.

Added to my TBR list:

  • Sophie’s Choice by William Styron
  • Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer: I really need to read this one! I’ve never had a book be more recommended to me.

Have you read The Nightingale? Did you like/dislike the book? Has your book club read this book?


7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

  1. This book sounds very interesting, focusing, as you say, on those at home in France trying to get by. Can’t wait to read it despite the fact that I may not be enthralled all the way through.

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    1. I think I would’ve liked the book more had I not heard about all the wonderful reviews, ie, if I went in thinking “oh I heard this was just OK”, I probably would like it more – but going in expecting to love it was disappointing. And the end is very, very good, but I did almost put the book down in the first half, because I was just getting really irritated with Isabelle. With all the good reviews however, I seem to be in the minority here about this book.

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      1. Nope. I felt the same way. The first half was quite a slog. I really felt the book could have been 100 pages shorter. Can’t place what the action was in the middle that you had trouble with. Wish you could tell me!

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        1. The part I had trouble with was when (spoilers if anyone is following the comments!) Vianne killed Beck. It really seemed to come out of nowhere for me. I thought it was building towards a romance (i know, they were both already married) and he would turn and help Isabelle escape, but nope. I guess I just didn’t understand all of the buildup to have his character end that way.

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  2. Yeah, I get that. Would have definitely been an interesting direction to go in. All the women in my book club were really hot for Beck. I had a feeling all along that she would wind up killing him.

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