Book Review: The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

The Postmistress

I seem to have had an unintentional run of reading war based novels recently: Alone in Berlin, The Heroes’ Welcome and After the Bombing to name just a few.  All of them have had a different story and perspective, and all of them enjoyable because of this.  The Postmistress is different again.

The Postmistress tells the story of three different women during the war.  Frankie is an American radio journalist reporting on the war from Europe.  Iris is P in a small town in Cape Cod, listening to Frankie’s reports. Emma Fitch is the wife of the towns doctor. She listens to Frankie in the hope of hearing something of London where her husband is helping out the war effort. The three women become linked when Frankie finds a letter in London which she vows to deliver.  Her journey to deliver this letter takes her across war-torn Europe where she is party to unimaginable sorrow and desperation.

The story alternates between Europe and America during 1940 and between the experiences and expectations of Frankie, Iris and Emma.  I particularly enjoyed Frankie’s character and story.  Using a female reporter to describe war experiences and the immediacy of death and trauma was a clever one. The scenes during the blitz were shocking and Frankie’s ability to convey the horror of what she saw in Europe to her listeners in America and in turn to us the readers was effective.

Emma, despite her circumstances of being an orphan and then a ‘abandoned wife’ while her husband paid his dues in England slightly frustrated me.  I wanted her to be stronger earlier on and not be defined by her circumstances.

“There were people back there in town, all over the world, lots of them, sweating and shouting and grabbing handfuls of life, handfuls to toss around, toss at each other, toss away………Death was the lightest kiss, the coolest touch, a pinch on the tread and then you were gone.”

Iris was quite a formidable character She believes it is her responsibility to deliver and keep people’s secrets and pass on news of joy and sorrow contained in the letters she handles and she takes her role very seriously.  I liked that and it made me think about how much is contained in an envelope.  Lives are changed by opening letters.  Although this is perhaps less true today with email etc.  During the war letters were a source of hope and joy, delivering news from sweethearts and loved ones but so often bringing news of death and dashed hopes.

Despite war often being perceived as ‘mens business’, the male characters in this novel are much less significant and apart from Emma’s husband Will in the early part of the novel they are often playing supporting roles to the three women.

If I had a complaint about the book it was that it took a while for all three strands of the story to come together and even when they did it took some time for the story to reach its climax.  However, that said, this is a good novel and one I would recommend.

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