REVIEW: NIGHTINGALE BY FIONA MCINTOSH

 NIGHTINGALE

Author: Fiona McIntosh
Michael Joseph RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

Book Cover:  NightingaleFiona McIntosh delivers another powerful love story with historical drama Nightingale, released in October 2014. I’ve been a fan of McIntosh since I read The French Promise (which blew me away) and she’s been on my must-read list ever since. A strange confession here – I sometimes delay reading her new books, not because I don’t want to read them, but because I always feel sad when I finish them.

Set during World War I, Nightingale begins on the Gallipoli front, a household name today for its role as one of Australia’s most significant, courageous and costly military operations. According to Australian Army records, “Australian casualties for the Gallipoli campaign amounted to 26 111, comprising of 1007 officers and 25 104 other ranks. Of these, 362 officers and 7 779 men were killed in action, died of wounds or succumbed to disease.” Against this horrific backdrop, British nurse meets Australian Light Horseman Jamie Wren and falls deeply in love. Torn apart by their official duties, they promise to meet in London on the first day of April following the war’s end.

In peacetime, Claire is desperate to track down Jamie, refusing to believe that he may not have made it through. Her search takes to her Istanbul, to the family of one of Jamie’s friends. During a temporary armistice on the Front, Jamie and Turkish soldier Açar Shahin forged a fleeting friendship  on the blood-stained battlefield; this friendship leaves a vital clue for Claire to follow. Her visit to Istanbul is eye-opening, and gives Claire the opportunity to consider the breadth and depth of her love when Açar’s father shows an interest. Is it time to let her love for Jamie fade into memory?

It doesn’t pack the punch of The French Promise and The Lavender Keeper, but Nightingale is still a moving and memorable story. Jamie and Claire’s story is one that lingers – even if you don’t believe in love at first sight, you’d be hard pressed not to after reading this. McIntosh has matched together two characters of integrity, two kindred spirits who you hope will have a happy ending despite the challenges. And even though in real-life the characters would face even more challenges due to their wartime memories, it’s easy to believe they would get through. There’s also a bittersweet element to the love triangle that develops towards the end.

As with The French Promise and The Lavender Keeper and The Tailor’s Girl, this novel brings out themes of war and its impacts, courage, collective post-war grief, friendship and forgiveness. I do love how McIntosh’s books continue to highlight women’s strength of character during a crisis. Wartime scenes are vividly and evocatively drawn; one of the most moving was the scene with the temporary armistice when Jamie and Acar were talking, connecting despite being on “other sides”.

‘Hello, Aussie,’ someone said and he turned to see a Turkish soldier inches from the demarcation line, pearly teeth glittering as his mouth stretched a bright smile across his swarthy complexion.

I’m sure there are many real-life stories like that.

McIntosh is at the top of the romantic period drama genre and I have a sense she’ll be there for a long time yet. Nightingale is no saccharine love story – it has guts, with dark wartime undertones casting an ever-present shadow. I can’t wait for McIntosh’s next novel, The Last Dance, which is due out soon.

Available from good bookstores and Penguin Books Australia. My copy was courtesy of Penguin Books Australia.

Bookish treat: Turkish Delight or Lokum was enjoyed by Claire during this book … and by me.