When I read a historical fiction, I expect – of course – a historical fiction, not a soap opera with eye-rolling cliché and melodrama. The Nightingale is filled with exaggerated dramatic moments and chick-lit plot. It didn’t make a good historical fiction even if Kristin Hannah threw in a *SPOILER* rape element.
1. The Characters
None of the characters are really likable, especially the two protagonists Vianne and Isabelle.
Let’s talk about Isabelle. She was impulsive, hot-tempered, uncontrollable, irresponsible. She had not only once put her family in danger due to her childish thinking and behavior. When Beck billeted at Vianne’s house, she was rude to him thereby risking her sister’s and niece’s life. Had Beck not been a decent man, all of them would have been dead.
As for Vianne, she was just plain stupid. She hid Rachel in her cellar on the day of the deportation of Jewish, but only until noon. She couldn’t even wait till the end of the day before she thought it was safe to let her out. And Rachel, being even dumber, risked getting deported (which she did) for a bath.
“I went to town. Everything seems normal. Maybe Beck was being overly cautious, but I think you should spend one more night down there.”
Rachel’s face was drawn, tired-looking. “I’ll need diapers. And a quick bath. Ari and I both smelled.”
In another event when Isabelle was shot and Vianne insisted that her sister stayed to be cared by her. Having killed Beck moments ago, she needed to be reminded that an injured woman in her house was going to draw attention. If she would have used her brain a little it would not be so much effort to figure out this rocket science.
“Enough,” Henri said, stepping between them. “She can’t stay here, Vianne. Think about it. The Germans are going to come looking for their dead captain. They don’t need to find a woman with gunshot wound and false papers. You understand?”
Sometimes characters were shaped in a way that they were not supposed to be likable. But in this case the result was that I ended up not caring much about what happened to them.
2. The Writing
The writing style is generally flat and, yes, chick-lit. I don’t have anything against such genre. I even gave a high review for Me Before You and I specifically praised Jojo Moyes’ writing. But The Nightingale, is a chick-lit with historical fiction in disguise.
She was so surprised that she couldn’t think how to respond. He was saying he would die to protect Isabelle. He turned to her, gazed at her. Gazed, not looked.
There were things like these that reminded me of E.L.James’ infamous Fifty Shades trilogy. Kristin Hannah seemed to think her emphasizing of a “gaze” instead of a “look” would stun or awe the readers emotionally.
For the first time, Gaëtan smiled and Vianne understood how this scrawny, sharp-featured man in his beggar’s clothes had swept Isabelle off her feet. He had the kind of smile that inhabited every part of his face – his eyes, his cheeks; there was even a dimple.
That’s right, dimple is the answer to all questions!
3. Fiction or imagination?
There were events and moments when I wondered did Kristin Hannah do her research properly.
Times when it was “freezing cold” when hiking through the Nightingale escape route. Now I’d been to hiking in Nepal. It was neither raining nor snowing, but the temperature was low, close to sub-zero. But when we hiked, there wasn’t an instant when we felt “freezing cold”. When we walked our body generated heat, especially when there was a uphill hike or up a flight of steps. At all times, we wore a layer of long-sleeve shirt during the hike. When we stopped for meals it was not until for a while that we needed to wear the down jacket. So when Hannah described the mountain scene, I had many doubts.
Times when Hannah explained Rossignol’s family financial status and asset. Julien Rossignol was a war soldier and a bookseller and he owned a property (Le Jardin) in Carriveau, a bookshop and an apartment in Paris. I am no expert of France economy in the 1940s but I thought that was a bit too well-off for a bookseller.
Overall I gave it a 2 star out of 5. This is the first book I read of Kristin Hannah’s and I will keep in mind not to read another one.