Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

"Every story—love or war—is a story about looking left when we should have been looking right."
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake tells the story of several women during World War II, including Iris, the postmistress of Franklin, a small town in Cape Code, as well as American radio reporter Frankie who is stationed in England, and Emma, a young woman who arrives in Franklin to be with her new husband, the local doctor.  It is a story about secrets and letters, about accidents and fate. 

There were many things I enjoyed about the novel but one of my disappointments with The Postmistress is the fact that Blake uses technology at a time that doesn't exist, specifically the recording device that Frankie takes with her to interview people. Although Blake explains her reasoning for this at the back of the book, specifically that it is only off by a couple years and she felt it was important for the story, for something that plays such a huge role in the book I was let down when I learned it was inaccurate.

I also didn't care for the the postmistress herself, and I was pretty happy when she turned out to not to be the main focus of the novel. Particularly, at the beginning of the book she goes to get a certificate to prove her virginity to the man she is interested in dating, an event which seemed completely odd and out of place within the context of the rest of the novel. Iris's inexperience was already clear and having her go and be examined just felt strange and could probably have been edited out without being missed. Also, the novel begins with Frankie beginning to tell the story about a postmistress who didn't deliver a letter yet the reason for this flashforward was never quite clear and didn't really add anything to the story as a whole.

The most significant thing I loved about The Postmistress was Blake's writing, which results in a novel that is not just enjoyable as historical fiction, but adds depth and dimension to the story. I loved the way that she talked about the concept of telling a story, something that Frankie, as a reporter, thinks about a lot. She brings the idea of storytelling alive with such statements as: 
"Some stories don’t get told. Some stories you hold on to. To stand and watch and hold it in your arms was not cowardice. To look straight at the beast and feel its breath on your flanks and not to turn—one could carry the world that way."
Blake sweeps the reader into her world, and I particularly loved the portions of the novel that focused on Frankie, a character with plenty of passion and confusion in her heart. The storyline which dealt with reporting during a war reminded me slightly of The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli, which also featured a strong independent woman at the core of a war-torn country. Like Soli, Blake manages to vividly capture the feeling of war and my favourite parts of the book were those which took place in underground bomb-shelters or after a bombing. It was in those moments that Blake truly captivates the reader.

The Postmistress is a beautifully written book. The problem with it is either that it takes on too much or at the very least, too much of what it covers failed to entrance me in the same way that the scenes which had to do with the war did. Even those portions loosely connected to the war- Emma coping while her husband is away, Frankie dealing with her experiences after she returns to the United States- had a power to them that I found lacking when the focus was more ordinary. Ultimately, I loved the language of The Postmistress even if I didn't always love what it was saying.

Release Date: February 9th 2010
Pages: 371
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This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own.


  1. Hi! I'm a new follower.

    I read The Postmistress last year and I felt the same way! That beginning scene with her going to get a virginity certificate was weird, and it didn't really tie in with the rest of the book. I liked Emma's story and could definitely feel her pain through the writing, but I thought that sometimes, there was too much detail.


  2. I was let down by this story too. So little of it was about the post mistress I wondered why that title for one thing. And I really thought that not delivering that piece of mail was reprehensible, as well as unprofessional. Perhaps her next book will be more interesting for us. Thanks for an honest opinion.


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