The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

By Ekta R. Garg

March 30, 2011

Rated: Bypass it

I’ve always enjoyed fiction about World War II, particularly books dealing with the struggle and stories of the Jews as they escaped (or got trapped in) the Holocaust.  Long a fascination of mine, I’ve marveled and cried and cheered while reading the stories about those suffering from Hitler’s wrath.  In that regard I keep an eye out for books about this time of history and was excited when I heard about The Postmistress.  Unfortunately the book doesn’t fulfill the promise it makes.

Author Sarah Blake leaves many potential plotlines unfinished, and she raises many questions she doesn’t answer.  This proves to be the book’s ultimate undoing because most of the questions are exactly the ones that would make us love the characters and want to know more about them.  Instead we just wait for the book to end as soon as possible so we don’t have to hear from them anymore.

Portrayed as a book about three main characters who are supposedly connected by events during WWII, one would assume from the title that the postmistress (Iris James) is the lynchpin of this particular story.  Sadly, this isn’t the case.  In fact she really isn’t a main character at all.

The majority of the story focuses on Frankie Bard, a woman reporter working in London during the Blitz in 1940 as the Germans rained bombs on that magnificent city.  The third main character presented is Emma Fitch, wife of the only doctor in the little town of Franklin, Mass., on Cape Cod.  Again, while Emma’s character is positioned as a main one, she is eventually relegated to more of the background scenes.

Frankie’s storyline provides readers with the most compelling scenes.  As she broadcasts her experiences for CBS radio, Frankie’s voice is laden with the frustration she feels at the situation before her.  Her voice also carries anger at her countrymen who are turning a blind eye to the events across the Atlantic.  Frankie works day and night to find just the right story in the hope that she will convert apathy into action, but she finds her mission difficult as she works within the confines of her profession, her gender, and the censor.

In Massachusetts Iris James carries her duties as postmaster (the term in those days for her role) with the greatest sense of responsibility, and here author Sarah Blake’s story loses its power.  Throughout the entire book we keep getting the sense that Iris will end up doing something astonishingly important, but the ultimate act she commits—holding a letter instead of delivering it—has the feel of an anticlimax to it.

Emma Fitch is young and (from Blake’s portrayal) seemingly frail, and unfortunately doesn’t have much to do in the book.  It was clear Blake needed to complete her plotline of a letter held and the person who doesn’t receive it; while we can feel some stirring of sympathy for Emma when she doesn’t receive the key mailing, we aren’t necessarily shocked or surprised or moved to any strong emotion because Blake has already told us the contents of the letter and what they mean for Emma.

In fact the strong emotions come during all the passages about Frankie.  Her anger and frustration ring loud and clear, so loud in fact to be distracting from the story at hand.  Blake clearly had strong feelings herself when she was writing these portions, but she hasn’t been able to keep her emotions in check.  She has failed that fine balance between writing from the heart and maintaining a little bit of objectivity so we can focus on the story she wants to tell.

The prologue and Blake’s story setup are clunky; the dialogue is forced and almost seems amateurish.  She has tried, through Frankie’s voice, to provide a dramatic entry to her story.  Instead it comes across as over-the-top, almost cartoonish.  Blake attempts to make the book a dialogue between Frankie and the audience, but she chooses odd moments to revert to first person (the voice of the prologue) and her word choice interrupts the scene at hand and confuses the reader.

I definitely would not recommend The Postmistress book to read; for a compelling story, go to something with more heart and a stronger story like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

***

What the ratings mean:

Bookmark it!–Read this book and then buy it and add it to to your own collection.  It’s definitely worth it!

Borrow it–Check this one out from the library; it’s a worthy read, but think twice before spending your hard-earned money on it.

Bypass it–Free time is precious.  Don’t spend it on this book!

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