Despite their differences, sisters Vianne and Isabelle have always been close. Younger, bolder Isabelle lives in Paris while Vianne is content with life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. But when the Second World War strikes, Antoine is sent off to fight and Vianne finds herself isolated so Isabelle is sent by their father to help her.
As the war progresses, the sisters’ relationship and strength are tested. With life changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Vianne and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions.
Complex and cleverly crafted, the novel covers the entire war from two points of view. Both sisters, of which the novel follows closely, represent the ways in which women were forced to carry on when men were drafted. Isabella rebels in an all consuming fiery way. She throws herself into her endeavours with a conviction for resistance and terrifying recklessness. Vienna’s rebellion is a subdued, understated strength. A day by day survival which is focused on making it through the war, quietly and in tact. Both feats are impressive and moving.
The atrocities of war, though not of the chilling reality of the battlefield, whittle these woman down to the bone. Starvation, desperation and fear cling to them relentlessly as they do their part to aid the war effort. Isabelle’s charming recklessness makes her narration entertaining where Vianne’s is tinged with a hopeless mundanity.
The sister’s paralleled war time lives intersect very rarely, but despite this it is very obvious how intertwined Isabella and Vianne are with each other. Despite being estranged before and during the war their love for each other manages to bridge the gap between their differences.
Romance, as a subplot, is very effectively depicted as to allow you to become invested in their endings without it becoming all consuming. It’s an important facet if the novel, Vianne waiting anxiously for a reunion with her husband and Isabelle worried about her war time lover, but it doesn’t overshadow the women’s own experiences.
This novel spans the entirety of the war and allows for an array of events to come to fruition. Because of this the novel never lags and you’re continuously enthralled and horrified by these women and the lives they’re forced to lead.
Fair warning, prepare to have your heart torn out of your chest in the final chapter. It took me forever to finish the final few pages because every second line had me sobbing fat dramatic tears. I hadn’t even realized how invested I had become until I reached the final few pages. I would highly recommend picking this novel up and losing yourself in this story.