The penultimate book for my reading of the Young Writers Award shortlist 2020 (I’ll be finishing off with Exciting Times), and even though the winner has been announced already (Surge took the prize), this year’s shortlist has just been one cracker after the other.

Nightingale is the story of a young woman who leaves her guilt-laden life in Paris to take a job as a nurse for a sick man in the French countryside. At first, I caught myself thinking, “let me guess, he’s a horrible old man but she forms an unbreakable bond and makes best friends with the town folk blah di doo”, but the relationships and bonds that form are not cliche at all, they are imperfect and real.

The small town is fuelled by gossip and judgement, yet the notion of the backwards provincial life is contrasted by the fact that the “cultured” Parisians often dish out similarly problematic attitudes in different manifestations. Dealing with issues of parental love (or the lack thereof), blame, homosexuality, self-loathing, love, loss, illness, trust and lies, Nightingale is somehow about nothing and everything all at once.

The writing is fast moving but also meandering – it’s as if the plot moves while the writing grounds us in the scenic sleepiness and sometimes repetitiveness of rural existence, which is both stifling and liberating.

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