Extraordinarily excellent book, must be one of the best I have read all year. So many novels have been written in recent years set against the background of WWII and the ordinary people who suffered, survived, and retained their humanity against all odds and the brutality of the Nazi regime. Ordinary people who did extraordinary things. And here we have another truly amazing novel that will completely grip you, wring you out emotionally. Two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle Rossignol (French for nightingale), have lived quite separate lives due to the death of their mother when they were children. Vianne has married her childhood sweetheart who has left to fight, and with her young daughter they live in a town in Nazi controlled France. Her war involves basically staying alive, having to fight off starvation, losing neighbours and friends to deportations, while also having to billet Nazi officers. Her sister Isabelle has quite a different war, finding her calling working in the Resistance, and risking her life every hour of her waking hours. It is marvellous stuff, I can't recommend this book highly enough - suspense, betrayal, love, tragedy, the whole package. Well paced, great plot development, imperfect and real characters with great humanity who never give up hope. I do have one criticism - the author mentions in her introduction that the catalyst for her novel was reading about a young woman who created an escape route across the Pyrenees for allied airmen. I really think she should have said who this woman was - I wonder if it was Nancy Wake - the White Mouse who was on Hitler's wanted list. If her story is based on real people, then I think the author is honour bound and almost obligated to name them so a to ensure that their memory is revered and remembered. It wouldn't have taken much for her to name, thank and revere these people who did so much, and more often than not died for their actions.
My word, this woman can write. I was fairly luke warm about part one in the four part Neapolitan Novels - My Brilliant Friend, but this one, the second novel in the series, has converted me to the brilliance of her writing and her story telling. Picking up where My Brilliant Friend finished - Lila's wedding - we are immediately thrust into the rest of the reception. The two childhood friends are now 16, and this novel covers much of the next ten years in their lives. As much a story about friendship and growing up as a story of the savagery of the society they live in, it really is gripping reading. Both girls are struggling to break out of the poor, downtrodden, violent community they have been born into, finding different ways and means, not always successful. The book is huge, and really over the ten years there is not a great deal of plot. But what is so stunning is the author's, and it also has to be said her translator's, skill and uncanny ability to dig deep into the souls of her characters. Books three and four also look like whoppers, and no doubt will be just as grim, but riveting reading as this one.