Book Review: The Postmistress

The PostmistressBy Sarah Blake

Published February 9th 2010 by Penguin Group (USA)

ISBN 9780425238691

384 pages

In 1940, Iris James is the postmistress in coastal Franklin, Massachusetts. Iris knows more about the townspeople than she will ever say, and believes her job is to deliver secrets. Yet one day she does the unthinkable: slips a letter into her pocket, reads it, and doesn’t deliver it.

Meanwhile, Frankie Bard broadcasts from overseas with Edward R. Murrow. Her dispatches beg listeners to pay heed as the Nazis bomb London nightly. Most of the townspeople of Franklin think the war can’t touch them. But both Iris and Frankie know better…

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.

I picked up this book really thinking that I would love it.  I generally enjoy novels set in historical times, and this book has the potential to tell more than one wonderful story.  Unfortunately, the book didn’t quite meet my expectations.

On the one hand, the book is beautifully written.  The language is lovely, the narrative direct yet descriptive.  However at one point I felt like this kind of overshadowed the actual storytelling itself.  Perhaps with the exception of Frankie, I never really got super attached to any of the characters.  And yet, there wasn’t quite enough resolution to Frankie’s story to be satisfying.

The premise has immense potential – the contrast between Europe and small-town America, the contrast between the woman reporting from London during the Blitz versus the women at home who are watching the coming war with trepidation and resistance. The underlying historical story – that of the beginnings of the Jewish holocaust and of American unwillingness to get involved, is perhaps the best part of the book.  I just didn’t think that the actual characters in the book lived up to the setting which was created for them.

Overall, 3/5 stars.

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