I’m currently reading the novel, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. I like the book and the characters more than some I’ve read recently. But I’m still reading so I’ll reserve my fully formulated thoughts on it until I’m done. There are some beautifully written phrases in this book that make me think.
This scene is one that stopped me in my tracks after reading it today:
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Isabelle seems unbreakable. She has a steel exterior, but it protects a candyfloss heart. Don’t hurt
her, that’s what I’m saying. If you don’t love her — ”
Vianne studied him. “Does she know?”
“I hope not.”
Vianne would not have understood that answer a year ago. She wouldn’t have understood how dark
a side love could have, how hiding it was the kindest thing you could do sometimes. “I don’t know why
it’s so easy for me to forget how much I love her. We start fighting, and…”
I sometimes feel as I’m reading this book, that I am most like Isabelle – of all the female characters in the book. I wouldn’t have expected that when I first started reading. But there are some similarities in our experiences, that I can’t quite deny. The scene above was one of those stop me in my tracks, moments. Vianne’s tenderness for her sister, in this scene, was a long time coming. In fact, it’s one of the reasons she’s not my favorite character. Her harshness toward her younger sister is entirely uncalled for. She is selfish. But there’s something about her saying, “She wouldn’t have understood how dark a side love could have, how hiding it was the kindest thing you could do sometimes,” that really got me thinking today.
Hiding love seems like the opposite of everything I believe and stand for. In most ways, it is. On the other hand, sometimes – it is what it is. Choosing to hide it, under some circumstances, may be what’s best for the one you love. In The Nightingale, Gaetan admits to Vianne that he loves her sister. He also says that he hopes Isabelle doesn’t know. To fully explain is to share spoilers for the book which I don’t want to do. But I will say that the characters are in the midst of loss and war all around them. For her well being, Gaetan doesn’t want Isabelle knowing how much he loves her.
Their work is dangerous. And life is fleeting in the midst of German occupied France. He made a decision – for her own protection and well being – that he wouldn’t let her see that love. He still makes choices that are protective and caring. But outside of that, he maintains his hard shell, to protect her from the things she won’t protect herself from. I’m sure there’s a chance that Isabelle’s steady and constant love for him – in spite of that – makes Gaetan love her even more. But Isabelle wouldn’t have known that through most of the book. I hope she knows before the end of the book.
So while hiding love seems antithetical to what I hold most dear when it comes to loving others, in some situations, it’s a necessarily painful part of loving another. I read through more than half of this book to get to the point where I could like Vianne more. This scene does it. But it also makes me love Gaetan (didn’t like him before this), for the way he protects the woman he loves, as best he can – in a situation that is unwinnable. To me, that is an incredibly beautiful love.
“She wouldn’t have understood how dark a side love could have, how hiding it was the kindest thing you could do sometimes.“