REVIEW: The Nightingale Christmas Show by Donna Douglas

In brief: It’s the first Christmas since World War II finished and the staff of the Nightingale are finding their problems aren’t over. Could the Christmas show bring them back together?

The good: Lovely to catch up with some of the old characters like Matron and Violet.

The not-so-good: Very little of Dora and it read more like a series of vignettes focusing on one character at a time.

Why I chose it: Enjoyed the books in this series.

Year: 2017

Pages: 358

Publisher: Arrow (Penguin Random House)

Setting: London’s East End

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

The Nightingale Christmas Show is the ninth book in the series, following various nurses through their time at the Nightingale Hospital in London’s East End. The series originally followed a group of student nurses in the late 1930s. In the latest book in the series, it’s late 1945 and the Nightingale is slowly beginning to repair itself after the end of World War II. For the staff though, it’s still a tumultuous time.

The story is told from the point of view of different nurses, nearly all of whom we’ve met in previous volumes. Matron Kathleen Fox is undecided as to whether she still has a future at the Nightingale. She’s aware that things aren’t quite what they used to be and delegates her new assistant matron Charlotte to organise a Christmas show for the patients. Matron doesn’t really have her heart in it though and is she consciously setting up Charlotte for failure? Charlotte is a cold fish to the other nurses and people skills are not her thing. Being an outsider too isn’t helping. The Christmas show preparations aren’t getting off to a good start and the staff prefer to look to ward sister Violet for direction. But Violet has her own problems to deal with, as do the student nurses, other sisters and helpers. Love and life are complicating things for the staff, but can they get it together to help the patients out?

I felt that this book read more like a series of interlinked short stories set around the Christmas show. I felt this way as each of the characters has their own problem to deal with which they haven’t revealed to the others and a fair proportion is set away from the setting of the Nightingale. There are also a couple of new to me characters (they may have been introduced already, but I couldn’t remember them!) who didn’t always feel like they added too much to the plot. I felt that reading about the same scenes from different points of view didn’t add too much for me, as the scenes were pretty well described the first time round. Knowing the characters involved, it was easy to predict how they would react.

I’m not sure if there are more stories planned for the series. I missed hearing about some of the favourite ‘originals’, like Dora (she’s around but only rates a few lines). I think it would be great for the series to jump forward a few years and follow a new set of student nurses through their training. Plus, we don’t always need a Christmas book – it doesn’t need to be themed to be fun.

Overall, the story is still heart-warming and it’s a pleasant read for lazy holiday days. I wouldn’t miss out on a Nightingale story, but this wasn’t the strongest for me.

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