Review: Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie

43305429Verdict: Unfocussed.

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction

Published by HarperCollins UK, 2019

Find it on Goodreads.

On an ordinary Saturday morning in 1996, the residents of Nightingale Point wake up to their normal lives and worries.

Mary has a secret life that no one knows about, not even Malachi and Tristan, the brothers she vowed to look after.

Malachi had to grow up too quickly. Between looking after Tristan and nursing a broken heart, he feels older than his 21 years.

Tristan wishes Malachi would stop pining for Pamela. No wonder he’s falling in with the wrong crowd, without Malachi to keep him straight.

Elvis is trying hard to remember to the instructions his care worker gave him, but sometimes he gets confused and forgets things.

Pamela wants to run back to Malachi but her overprotective father has locked her in and there’s no way out.

It’s a day like any other, until something extraordinary happens. When the sun sets, Nightingale Point is irrevocably changed and somehow, through the darkness, the residents must find a way back to lightness, and back to each other.

Following six different perspectives around the events of a semi-fictional tragedy, I could not properly make sense of the why of this story – why did the author need this particular tragedy to tell the story? Why is the tone so glib when the events are so tragic? Is this supposed to be a story about a community or about a tragedy?

My thoughts on this are complicated: while I thought there were chapters and scenes that really worked, there were also vast stretches that I could not get interested in. Therefore, a list of things that worked for me and a list of things that didn’t:

What I liked:

  • Mary’s perspective. I really appreciated Mary’s voice and her particular dilemma. I thought her character was interesting and flawed in a really believable way. I enjoyed the different parental relationships she had with both her biological children and with Tristan and Malachi.
  • The wonderfully layered sibling relationship between Malachi and Tristan.

What I didn’t like:

  • The structure was possibly the part of the book that I found least successful. It took pages upon pages to finally reach the point of the plane impact and afterward the book felt very different than before. The book gets better in the direct aftermath of the tragedy but by then I had already spent hours listening to character exposition. After that the book jumps ahead in a way that made it feel like much of the plot and the character development happened off-screen.
  • Everything about the way in which Pamela’s story was handled. I found it both predictable and horrifying, which is my least favourite combination.
  • Tristan’s perspective: while I thought his character was interesting, his voice never felt authentic to me – to be fair, I do not know that many 15-year-old boys, but still it felt stereotypical rather than authentic. And I really could not deal with his rap verses, especially during scenes when a lot of things were happening.
  • I am not sure I liked the way in which Elvis’ sections were handled but I do admit that I cannot completely put my fingers on the why of that. I disliked the choice to have him refer to other characters by harsh descriptions (“the bad Black boy” for example), and by the clumsy way in which commentary on race and gender was integrated in his sections.
  • The scope was too broad for me, dealing with everything imaginable (racism and sexism, abuse, ableism, tragedy and familial relationships, cheating and abandonment) while never really giving any of those things any room to properly breathe.

Overall, the worst part was that after each momentary glimpse of brilliance, the next scene would again be clumsy and ill-thought-out, making me sad for the book this could have been if it had been more focussed; its inclusion on the Women’s Prize longlist baffles me.

Content warning: depictions of racism, sexism, and ableism; abuse; abandonment; cheating; death of loved ones; bullying; PTSD; drug abuse

I am reading the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist this year. My current ranking is as follows:

  1. Actress by Anne Enright (review)
  2. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo (review)
  3. Weather by Jenny Offill (review)
  4. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes (review)
  5. Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie
  6. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (review)

Not planning on reading: The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

14 thoughts on “Review: Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie

  1. I think books that have potential but don’t deliver on it are the most frustrating thing ever. It seems that was the case here. I am interested to see how I fare with this one but based on your review (and others I’ve seen) I don’t have high hopes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I kept wishing the whole book had been told from Mary’s perspective. I liked her – and I think we do not get enough stories told from older women’s perspectives as it is. I would also have been saved the rap verses that added nothing (I thought). I do hope you’ll like it more than me!

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  2. Nice, well-balanced review. This book sounds pretty frustrating. I almost find books with *moments* of brilliance more frustrating than books that are downright bad, because the potential for a compelling story is obviously there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! And yes, definitely! Whenever I was close to just giving up there would be one scene where I would be all in and invested in these characters and then again long stretches of mediocrity. I do hope you’ll get on with it better than I did!

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  3. Unsurprisingly I 100% agree. I especially appreciated this: ‘I found it both predictable and horrifying, which is my least favourite combination.’ 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have so many thoughts on the Pamela plotline and the longer I think about it, the angrier I get with how it was handled. (also horrifying and predictable seems to be a bit of a theme in this year’s list)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh no, looks like a lot of red flags with this one. I don’t like the sound of predictable and horrifying and the rap verses and “bad black boy” made me cringe. I won’t have a copy of this on hand but I’m putting it off as long as possible…

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  5. Ugh, such a shame that this one seemed full of potential and yet failed to realize any of it. I was hoping to enjoy this one but am lowering my expectations significantly. Perhaps I’ll pick it up next to get it out of the way.

    Liked by 1 person

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