As I mentioned in my The Time Will Come post, I’ve recently reorganised my bookshelves so that all my TBR books are on one looooong shelf instead of several different piles. The end with the oldest books is closest to my bed, so they’re all staring me in the face and I can easily convince myself that I actually want to read them. Or that’s the theory, anyway. Of the last seven books, six have been from that end. I’m oddly proud… Anyway, The Postmistress is the latest addition as I bought it ooh…. early 2010?
The wireless crackles with news of blitzed-out London and of the war that courses through Europe, leaving destruction in its wake. Listening intently on the other side of the Atlantic, newly-wed Emma considers the fragility of her peaceful married life as America edges closer to the brink of war. As the reporter’s distant voice fills the room, she sits convincing herself that the sleepy town of Franklin must be far beyond the war’s reach. But the life of American journalist Frankie, whose voice seems so remote, will soon be deeply entangled with her own. With the delivery of a letter into the hands of postmistress Iris, the fates of these three women become irrevocably linked. But while it remains unopened, can Iris keep its truth at bay?
The majority of the story follows Frankie, an American journalist in London seeking first to report the truth of the Blitz across the seas, and then to travel across Europe telling the story of the Jewish people pushed out of their homes. Unfortunately, she’s the most irritating character. She’s selfish, stroppy and naive and somehow expects wandering into Nazi Germany to be completely problemless. I did like her vague jobs at the censors behind her broadcasts though – they seemed to fill her out as a character and make her a little more real somehow.
The Postmistress herself doesn’t seem to feature that much, which is a shame as she’s by far the most interesting woman. 40-year-old Iris runs the rural Post Office by herself and loves the order and perfection that comes with such a job. Every letter in its place, every stamp in its corner. She isn’t interested in the secrets the mail might possess – she never reads the back of a postcard or even notices who’s sending perfume-scented enevelopes overseas. She just does her job and does it well.
Emma is the new wife of a young doctor in Cape Cod. She’s heavily pregnant and hasn’t heard from her husband in months, as he’s gone to provide medical aid to the bombed residents of London. She refuses to believe he’s dead as she has heard no news and the letters he used to send daily have stopped.
I did like the book, but it’s not what I expected. Firstly, it’s not a whole lot to do with either the Postmistress or letters. Like the blurb states, she does withhold a letter… but it’s not even integral to the plot. The whole Post Office side could have been cut out of the story and the book would barely need to change. Ms Blake’s notes at the back say that she saw her own Post Lady slip a letter into her own pocket once and that’s what inspired the story, but I think that got lost somewhere along the way. It kind of defeats the purpose for me. Fair enough, Frankie had a more action-packed story, but don’t pretend that the story’s about a Postmistress when it’s plainly not.
The prose is beautiful though. Sarah Blake clearly has a gift for providing stunning imagery, whether its the sandy dunes of Cape Cod or the train station in Berlin packed with Jewish immigrants. Even the dialogue flows naturally, although I found that the viewpoint would change suddenly and we were being shown somebody else’s opinion with no obvious gap inbetween.
I felt that the ending was slightly anti-climactic too. The whole book was building to this big revelation… and then it was dealt with quietly and shoved under the carpet. After the entire point of the book turned out to be different than promised, the lack of any real ending was the icing on the cake.
I think I can sum it up best by saying that I loved the writing style and the characters that felt so real. The War felt gritty and terrifying, and wasn’t glossed over like it is in so many books. I loved everything… apart from the story. It ruined it for me. It just kind of meanders around and then peters out gradually. It could have been such a brilliant book, but it just, well… wasn’t.