Pan |29 January 2015| 5*
The Nightingale, in 2015 was voted a best book of the year by Amazon, Buzzfeed, iTunes, Library Journal, Paste, The Wall Street Journal and The Week. Additionally, the novel won the coveted Goodreads and People’s Choice Awards. The audiobook of The Nightingale won the Audiobook of the Year Award in the fiction category. And I can see why.
Despite their differences, sisters Vianne and Isabelle have always been close. Younger, bolder Isabelle lives in Paris while Vianne is content with life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. But when the Second World War strikes, Antoine is sent off to fight and Vianne finds herself isolated so Isabelle is sent by their father to help her.
As the war progresses, the sisters’ relationship and strength is tested. With life changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Vianne and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions.
The Nightingale is one of the most moving books I’ve read and I was emotionally drained by the end of the story. It tells of two French sisters and their experiences during the occupation of France in the Second World War. The younger sister, Isabelle is beautiful, impetuous and a rebel. She joins the Resistance Movement, whereas Vianne, married, stays at home looking after her daughter whilst her husband goes off to war.
This is a story of courage, of love and of the determination to survive under dreadful and appalling conditions – the horrors and dilemmas of living in an occupied country under Nazi rule, with rationing, curfews, and the dangers of being caught helping or of being a Resistance fighter. Vianne was faced with the dilemmas of whether to collude with the Nazi officers billeted in her house and whether to help her Jewish friend to escape before she could be taken off to the concentration camps. Isabelle takes desperate risks as she helps British and American airmen to freedom over the Alps to Spain. Hannah spares no details and I struggled to read the details of what people can do to those they consider their enemies.
Interspersed at intervals the narrative moves to 1995 as one of the sisters is invited and goes to a reunion. For a long time I couldn’t decide which one it was and by the time it was revealed I was in tears at the sadness and pathos of it all.
This book is one of my TBRs – a book I’ve owned prior to 1 January 2018.