On the surface, “The Nightingale” by Amy Lukavics appears to be the perfect read for the dark days leading into winter. It has a delightfully creepy vibe layered with a mystery. But more lies just below the surface.
Told through a series of flashbacks, “The Nightingale” tells the story of aspiring science fiction writer, June Hardy. Set in the mid-20th century, June must fit the norms of the time. Her parents have a specific plan in mind for her — white picket fence, a couple of kids and a respectable husband. June has other plans.
Unfortunately, June’s plans land her in Burrow Place Asylum. As June fights the restrictiveness of Burrow Place, the story becomes a mishmash of memories detailing the events that landed June in the asylum in the first place and hallucinations caused by either the drugs or June’s over active imagination or a combination of both of those things. June and the reader have difficulty telling truth from fiction. This creates a compelling reason to keep reading. Is what June experiencing real?
The flashbacks are the better part of the story. They make the most sense. They show a hopeful, resilient and creative June. A young writer who believes in her story that is clawing to get out of her mind. Her desire to bring her story to life is inspiring. Her parents and her brother do everything in their power to stifle her creativity. Their clashes will make one appreciate how far we’ve come in allowing women to decide and direct their own paths in life.
June’s life in the asylum is crazy and disjointed. One might argue that’s a reflection of the environment. There’s no one June can trust, except maybe her “dead” roommate. June doesn’t even trust herself and her own thoughts.
As the flashbacks come to meet the present time in the story, the story makes even less sense. Without being able to trust what June is seeing and experiencing in the asylum, it’s even harder to decipher the closing pages of the novel. It appears that the story June was writing that landed her in Burrow Place has a bigger part to play. It’s possible the experiences she felt so compelled and driven to write about are part of a grander plan. It’s hard to know what to feel about this reveal as it calls into question all that has come before it.
“The Nightingale” is an atmospheric read. Lukavics is able to make the reader feel the stifling nature of June’s parents, the not-quite-rightness of Burrow Place Asylum. But she doesn’t quite succeed in creating a satisfying story. The “is it real or not” aspect of the book will certainly keep readers moving through the book. But in the end, the conclusion may leave readers feeling lost, confused and wondering what they just read.