Monday, December 10, 2012

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

TITLE: The Postmistress
AUTHOR: Sarah Blake
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Berkley Trade/2009
SOURCE: Purchased


At first glance, The Postmistress has all the elements I love in a book. It's historical fiction, it's romance, there's a little bit of mystery thrown in there for good measure, and oh yah, Nazis! But something fell a little short for with this World War Two drama. 

Iris James is the postmaster in the small town of Franklin, right on the coast of cape cod. Her story intertwines with that of Emma Fitch, the doctor's wife, and Frankie Bard, a radio broadcaster working in London for Edward R. Murrows. These three stories are supposed to intertwine and as goodreads states 

The Postmistress is a tale of two worlds-one shattered by violence, the other willfully naïve-and of two women whose job is to deliver the news, yet who find themselves unable to do so. Through their eyes, and the eyes of everyday people caught in history's tide, it examines how stories are told, and how the fact of war is borne even through everyday life.

Here's the ting though, I didn't get any of that. I never fully understood why this particular story was written. To me, it felt like the  plot lacked focus. So Frankie's over in England telling the world what the war is really like while Iris and Emma are stuck in a land of denial, not wanting to think about America potentially entering the fray. Emma doesn't want her husband to leave her for the battle zone, Iris is in love with the town's mechanic  and WW1 vet; war touches their lives, but I don't know if I fully understand why their story was being told. 

Yes, war is a tragedy. World War Two affected many lives on both sides of the Atlantic. I kind of think that two of the three protagonists should at least acknowledge there's a war though. I'm finding this review difficult to write if only because I'm still struggling to grasp what this book was really about. 

Okay, so I really liked Frankie Bard. She was a incredibly interesting woman and really the only one of the the three who felt like a fully fleshed out character rather than a symbol. I was intrigued by her story and her heartbreak. She was experiencing the war and trying to do something. She took action. The other two women were less intriguing and came across more as the symbolic women at home. 

The book had its moments. Blake nailed the randomness of circumstances and the tragedies that can happen out of the blue because you look the wrong way. But here's the thing; the entire story was written in this sort of happenstance, unfocused way. When it works, it works. Some deaths are absolutely heartbreaking and had me wanting to cry on the skytrain. Other portions, well I just stopped caring.

I think there are better stories out there that show the same kind of thing. Code Name Verity was an excellent wartime story just off the top of my head. There are plenty of books that explore the London Blitz, the horrors of concentration camps, how the war affected the home fronts and those left behind. This particular story just wasn't the best retelling.

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