Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie
Published by HarperCollins, 2019
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Paradoxically ambitious and reserved, Nightingale Point touches on so many brilliant themes and ideas, but lacks a clear enough sense of direction to hit home with the kind of power it could have had. Despite that, I found it immensely readable throughout, and was captivated by the complex characterisation.
The story follows multiple residents of the titular apartment block in the build-up to and aftermath of a horrific accident that changes their lives forever. Reading this from the UK, it was impossible not to draw parallels with the Grenfell Tower disaster, and this instantly added a whole other layer of resonance. This was particularly true when the book touched on the poor handling of the fallout, and the resulting dehumanisation and supposed abandonment of survivors, most of whom are from working class minority groups. Goldie specifies in the author’s note that this was indeed a major source of inspiration for the book, and it makes me wish all the more that she had pursued this thread in greater depth.
Goldie does an excellent job of establishing each of her characters, flaws and all, by exploring their individual struggles and prejudices in equal measure. She shows how private hardships and familial dramas endure even in the wake of collective suffering, and the ways that a crisis can both push communities together and tear them apart – a notion that resonates with particular punch right now.
The book is split largely into before and after the disaster, but the incident itself is painfully (and brilliantly) drawn-out. By slowing down the pace and forcing us to constantly relive the events from each character’s perspective, Goldie hits home the horror of what is unfolding, and humanises those caught up in it, emphasising the reality that this single moment will dominate and define the rest of their lives.
The primary theme across the various viewpoints is the lengthy process of recovery, encapsulating the likes of survivor’s guilt, PTSD, grief, and regret over missed opportunities. Vast in scope, however, the book also looks at topics as varied as race, ableism, abuse, and the concept of found family. It’s certainly true that the book would have benefitted from a greater sense of focus; its desire to tackle so many ideas meaning it sometimes can’t decide what it wants to be. On several occasions, it feels like the book is building towards saying something meaningful, but it never quite manages to pull off the sucker punch, its need to balance so many plates resulting in some untapped thematic and narrative potential.
That said, I was so invested in the dilemmas being faced by the characters, big and small alike, that I remained hooked throughout. The emotional stakes are huge, and I think Goldie did a great job of capturing a microcosm of modern society, and the many difficulties and contradictions inherent to the human experience. Perhaps my rating is a little generous for a novel that fails to fully deliver on many of its promises, but given how underwhelmed I’ve been by a lot of this book’s fellow Women’s Prize for Fiction nominees, there’s a lot to be said for picking up a genuinely compelling story that feels strikingly contemporary and engaging, populated by characters that are as frustrating as they are endearing; and who feel all the more human as a result.
You can pick up a copy of Nightingale Point from Book Depository by clicking here.
WOMEN’S PRIZE 2020 REVIEWS SO FAR:
1. Girl, Woman, Other | 2. Hamnet | 3. Fleishman Is in Trouble | 4. Girl | 5. A Thousand Ships | 6. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line | 7. Dominicana | 8. The Most Fun We Ever Had | 9. Weather | 10. How We Disappeared | 11. Red at the Bone