Book Review: The Nightingale
“There are books full of great writing that don't have very good stories. Read sometimes for the story... don't be like the book-snobs who won't do that. Read sometimes for the words--the language. Don't be like the play-it-safers who won't do that. But when you find a book that has both a good story and good words, treasure that book.”
If you’ve checked my book reviews lately, you may remember how thoroughly I enjoyed All The Light You Cannot See. That novel took place during World War II in France and has set the bar VERY high for stories set in that time and space. I simply adored the writing and the narrative was superb. That means when I read The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah this week, also set in France during WWII, The Nightingale suffered by comparison.
There was decent prose, to be sure, and much of it was memorable.
“If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: in love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”
Yes. Well said.
“Perhaps that’s why I find myself looking backward. The past has a clarity I can no longer see in the present.”
“I know that grief, like regret, settles into our DNA and remains forever a part of us.”
These are lovely, and perfectly crafted sentences, but at other times the language felt distractingly predictable. For instance,
“Love. It was the beginning and end of everything, the foundation and the ceiling and the air in between.”
“But when he looked at her—and she looked at him—they both knew that there was something worse than kissing the wrong person. It was wanting to.”
I hate it when I argue with characters in my head, but that's what that sentence prompted in me.
“You are my sunlight in the dark and the ground beneath my feet.”
This feels like fodder for Danielle Steel...
Meanwhile, back in the plus column, I learned to appreciate the role of women in the French Resistance. I discovered new facts and appreciated the way Hannah positioned the female characters as strong and resourceful.
“'Men tell stories,’ I say. It is the truest, simplest answer to his question. Women get on with it. For us it was a shadow war. There were no parades for us when it was over, no medals or mentions in history books. We did what we had to during the war, and when it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over.”
I loved her descriptions of France, particularly Paris, where this line rings particularly true:
“I had forgotten how gently time passes in Paris. As lively as the city is, there’s a stillness to it, a peace that lures you in. In Paris, with a glass of wine in your hand, you can just be.”
The writing moves everything along at an easy clip and before you realize it (or want to recognize it), you’re drawn into the characters.
I think if I had just read for the story, I would have enjoyed the book much more. Yet still, in the end, I was pleasantly surprised where the journey went. I found the ending unique and clever.
I see now I should have put more space between the books. I couldn’t get away from comparing good writing with great writing.
That said, despite the distractions the storytelling was really, really solid.