Nightingale by Marina Kemp review – a deft debut

Marguerite Duras is a nurse running from her past in this moving tale of village secrets and romance in the south of France

Novels set around the Mediterranean tend to unfold over a summer, and involve newcomers to the area (often from colder climes) having seminal experiences, often of a sexual nature: André Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name, Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home, Françoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse. The Med is where young people go to discover something about themselves, or to be set free from some private grievance.

In Marina Kemp’s debut, Marguerite Duras is a 24-year-old Parisian running from her past, who has taken a job as a live-in nurse in a remote Languedoc village. Her charge is the cantankerous Jerome Lanvier, a once-tyrannical patriarch, now bed-bound bully, dying alone in a grand old house. The locals all nurse secrets of their own: there is Henri, the closeted farmer; his odious wife Brigitte, who aches silently for children unconceived; and Iranian Suki, bearing up under years of corrosive Islamophobia.

 

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