Hardcover, 326 pages
Published February 9th 2010 by Amy Einhorn Books/Penguin Group (USA)
Filled with stunning parallels to today’s world, The Postmistress is a sweeping novel about the loss of innocence of two extraordinary women-and of two countries torn apart by war.
On the eve of the United States‘s entrance into World War II in 1940, Iris James, the postmistress of Franklin, a small town on Cape Cod, does the unthinkable: She doesn’t deliver a letter. In London, American radio gal Frankie Bard is working with Edward R. Murrow, reporting on the Blitz. One night in a bomb shelter, she meets a doctor from Cape Cod with a letter in his pocket, a letter Frankie vows to deliver when she returns from Germany and France, where she is to record the stories of war refugees desperately trying to escape.
The residents of Franklin think the war can’t touch them- but as Frankie’s radio broadcasts air, some know that the war is indeed coming. And when Frankie arrives at their doorstep, the two stories collide in a way no one could have foreseen. The Postmistress is an unforgettable tale of the secrets we must bear, or bury. It is about what happens to love during wartime, when those we cherish leave. And how every story-of love or war-is about looking left when we should have been looking right.
I discovered this book after reading a friend’s glowing review of it. From her review, this sounded like a book that I would love, the kind that I gravitate toward, and for the most part, it fit the bill perfectly.
This is a story that examines many sides of an issue, namely war and injustice, and how we’re all, whether we know it or not, affected by that issue. We can ignore it, we can rail against it, or we can face it head on, but it will affect us just the same.
Sarah Blake tells her story with three different women, and three different storylines. The three women were real and felt honest and true, and they all spoke to me in different ways. I couldn’t really identify much with Iris, honestly, as she is set in her ways and unbendable about a lot of things, content when her little environment is in order and content not to know what happens in the world outside her bubble. But I could understand, if I didn’t agree, with her feelings on this, because it’s easier to not know the terrible things that we can do to each other.
In contrast to Iris is Frankie, a war reporter who wants to show the world what is REALLY going on in Europe, and make it personal, so that people will stand up and be outraged and want to stop it. I identified most with her, because she was brave and honest and willing to try to make a difference. I loved her.
Lastly, we have Emma, who was the outsider of the story. Newly married to the town doctor, she is the kind of link between the two extremes of Iris and Frankie. I liked her character, she was plucky and brave in her own way, but innocent and small in a world that is bigger than she is, and cruel.
I loved the way that Blake brought the scenes and story to life. Maybe it was the reader, but I don’t think so (as I have some complaints about her). I think it was just her ability to portray life in a real way, and make us feel it. I got goosebumps listening to the soldiers when Frankie was with them on the watch-lines. There were also a great many deaths in this book that hurt. I have an overactive empathy gland, I freely admit that, but when an author can bring me to care about a character in a chapter, or a few pages alone, to the point that I feel their loss when they die, I think that’s saying something. It’s always the personal stories that get to me when I read books like this, and this one delivered so much in that vein that I almost felt overloaded at times. As I’m sure Frankie did.
I do think that sometimes the descriptive language went a little too far into floweriness. Blake would describe all the little things that one notices during times of stress, when time seems to slow or stop, like the ticking of a clock, or the bang of a shutter, but it seemed to be just a little too flowery in the way that it was described. Just a bit less wouldn’t have been as distracting to me, and would have allowed me to focus on what was being said, not how it was relayed.
The last quarter of the book lost a little steam for me as well. I wanted it to pull all of the storylines together with a grand finale ending, but instead it was more like a regular firework show that just ends. It’s satisfying, because it is beautiful to watch and experience, but it’s just missing that little something to tie it all together and let you know it’s over. Listening to this on audio, the reader went straight into an afterword, and I had to rewind a bit and listen again before I realized that it wasn’t part of the story.
The reader was a bit disappointing to me. She did a good job, but often, her conversation tone was very different from how I’d have “heard” the same dialogue if I was reading it. Every female seemed to sound a little unsure, questioning and apologetic. Every male seemed to sound smug and sure and condescending, especially when it was a male news-guy talking to Frankie – even when you could tell that they had a rapport and seemed almost as equals. Will was the exception to this rule, but he was one of the few main male characters, so maybe he got his own personality to the reader… Even outside of the dialogue, her voice just sounded… off. A descriptive sentence would sound as if she’s trying to impart a lot of emotion, while an emotional sentence will sound like she’s trying to inject a little levity. I had to try hard to not listen to her tone and to listen to the context, because that told me what I needed to know more than her voice did.
All in all, the story was very good, and the reader was OK. I would suggest reading the book over the audio, but if the audio is all that’s available, don’t skip it. The book outshines the reader here and is well worth the time. 🙂