The Postmistress – Sarah Blake

The Postmistress is the story of three women whose lives eventually overlap with possibly traumatic consequences.  It is 1940 and Iris James, 40 something spinster, is postmistress (or as she prefers to be called postmaster) in the small seaside resort, Franklin, Massachusetts.  She and other townfolk regularly listen in to the radio reports from Frankie Bard, an American in London, a feisty, ambitious gal, who wants listeners to understand the true horrors of the war but is held back by censorship and the radio station’s avoidance of anything too disturbing – a tad difficult in wartime!  Another listener is young Emma Fitch, new wife of Will, Franklin’s doctor.  As the story unfolds, we see how the lives of these three very different women intertwine and how the once distant war gradually encroaches on small-town America.

I’ll start with the positives – Frankie Bard is a vibrant, realistic character whose recklessness and single mindedness doesn’t always make her a candidate for Miss Congeniality but her passion for reporting the truth and thus aiding the vulnerable is what really shone through for me as a reader.  I found her intense desire to bring the voices of the oppressed Jews through the airwaves to a, sometimes, misinformed or perhaps wilfully ignorant audience made her a very interesting, intriguing character and I was very keen to discover how her path would cross those of the other two female protagonists.   The story itself is thought-provoking as it makes one realise how very, very distant the war must have seemed to US citizens especially in a time when radio was the main source of news and with broadcasts being “modified” to such an extent.  Franklin is very vividly represented and reminded me of my own village where everyone knows everyone else which is very pleasant indeed but can often be a source of great stress especially when everyone takes such an avid interest in Iris James love-life or lack of!

So, onto the negatives…not too many but enough to irk me… I know Emma was probably meant to be represented as quite an insipid, helpless character but she ended up being almost invisible and we really don’t get to know what makes her tick.  I don’t mind weak characters but she was verging on the ghost-like and wouldn’t have even had the energy to give you a good haunting!   Iris had such great potential as a character but she seemed to be dragged into that stereotype of middle-aged virgin, desperate for a man but lacking the skills to do so - I think she would have been more at home in a Fannie Flagg novel whose books I really enjoy but she just seemed to be stuck in this novel for a set piece.

So, despite everything, I quite enjoyed The Postmistress.  I found it hard to get into but after about 70 pages or so it livened up a little.  Will I be reading more from this author?  Probably not but I think a lot of readers will so it’s no great loss, is it?

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4 Comments

  1. Iris says:

    This book received so many positive reviews. I think I would have problem with the characters too, the way you describe it.

  2. admin says:

    Iris, I’ve been spoiled by reading so many excellent books recently that this one just paled in comparison – neither hated it nor loved it – bit of a “meh” book for me. Just a great concept, poorly executed – something which really irks me as a reader!

  3. Violet says:

    I read a lot of positive reviews about this so I checked it out at the bookstore. It just didn’t appeal. I like the idea of the book, but the writing seemed a bit flat.

  4. admin says:

    It’s such a shame Violet as it could have been so much better – such an excellent concept.

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