When I started the Nightingale, I expected it to be a “heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women,” as it says in the description. While it is true that the novel focuses on the “resilience” and “durability” of Vianne and Isabelle, the two main characters, I have found the book so far to be lacking the “heartbreakingly beautiful” aspect that the cover flap promises.
Although I was always at least mildly engrossed while reading the first third of the book, I often found myself tiring of the unnecessary amount of descriptions. The author, Kristen Hannah, packs many of her descriptions chock-full of adjectives–so many adjectives, sometimes, that the sentences feel long and a bit bland. One example of this is when Vianne describes the Rossignol living room:
“[It had] golden stucco walls, the color of freshly baked brioche, gray stone floors covered by ancient Aubusson rugs, heavily carved wooden furniture upholstered in mohair and tapestry fabric, lamps made of porcelain, curtains of gold and red toile, antiques and treasures left over from the years when the Rossignols had been wealthy tradesmen.” (pg. 158 iBook version)
Though very descriptive when it comes to physicality, I found that this description and the abundance of others like it did not evoke emotions as well as other novels I have read. For example, in The Book Thief, Markus Zusak describes the Hubermann home as “one of the small, boxlike houses on Himmel Street. A few rooms, a kitchen, and a shared outhouse with neighbors. The roof was flat and there was a shallow basement for storage. It was supposedly not a basement of adequate depth.” (pg. 32) Not only is Zusak’s writing more concise, but in these three sentences he also gives the reader a sense of the rest of Leisel’s neighborhood and the war-time struggles of World War II.
Like the sentences, the plot of The Nightingale is sometimes drawn out and unclear. Often it seems as though Vianne’s and Isabelle’s lives are being described minutely, while the book’s overall picture is hard to glimpse. Some parts of the story move at an unrealistic pace, as well. For example, less than a week after meeting Gaëtan, Isabelle tells him that she loves him–and though some people may believe in love at first sight, I felt that Isabelle did not know nearly enough about the man to have fallen for him in a matter of days.
Although I am not a huge fan of Hannah’s writing style, I do find her characters likable. Isabelle is brash and rebellious, and though some might argue that she is a somewhat flat character, it is hard not to love her feminist personality. Vianne balances her sister nicely with a more reserved and rule-abiding personality. The chapters flap between their viewpoints often enough that I did not grow tired of either sister.
Overall, I found the first third of The Nightingale to be interesting but not particularly exciting. In my opinion, it pales in comparison to other books like The Book Thief. I look forward, however, to reading the rest of the novel and hope that the pace begins to pick up.