The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

This book is so much better than the cover suggests. I tend to avoid books with flowers on the front – they are either too chick-lit or too Maeve Binchy for me. On closer look, though, the rose on this cover is wilted and crinkling brown at the edge of the petals, so maybe I’ll forgive the publisher this time.

Because this is a good book. I wanted to keep reading it, and did so while I was getting supper ready, or at night before I went to sleep (when I would manage just over one page before my eyelids got prickly and my hands dropped the book). It’s set in World War Two and, as a shout on the back says, is “a riveting story of loss and love”. (Did you know that those authors’ comments on the back or front of a book are called ‘shouts’? And that the more famous authors are often paid to write one? So disillusioning).

In a nutshell, it is about love and loss, but what I liked about the book is that the loss really does occur like it would in real life. She doesn’t pretty up in the love in any way, which makes it more painful to read but so much more believable.

The plot is told by the point of view of three main female characters. Frankie Bard is a strong, determined woman who is an American radio reporter. She makes her way over to London in 1940 and broadcasts the horrors of the bombing raids during the Blitz back to America. Frankie is the kind of female reporter I would have been in another life (well, I like to think so). Further on in the book, she travels to France to report on the war there and slowly realises the daily nightmare that Jews face in this awful war, about which most Americans are still ignorant.

Back in America, Iris James is the postmistress in a small peaceful town on the Cape Cod coast. She is a disciplined, organised woman who runs the post office with ruthless efficiency (unlike me in my office) and ardently believes in the importance of delivering news through people’s letters. She reminds me of a headmistress, except that a softer, sensual side of her is shown in her relationship with general handyman of the village. The townsfolk are secure, almost smug, in their belief that America will never enter the war.

And then there’s Emma Fitch, the doctor’s pregnant wife, who listens to Frankie’s broadcasts every night to try to hear news of London, where her husband has gone to help in the war effort. She is a strange, timid woman; I couldn’t quite make her out as a character and think she was not as well portrayed as the other two, both of whom I could really ‘see’ in my mind.

The lives of these three women are brought together when Frankie is given a letter, which she promises to deliver and which takes her to the small town on the coast of America.

And that’s enough, otherwise I’ll spoil the story for you. The Postmistress is very well written, evocative of the war era, tragic and compelling. Ignore the cover and read it.

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Author: Nella

Passionate reader, sometime writer, school resource manager. I couldn't survive without books. And, I suppose, my children, my cats, my dog, my family, my friends. I belong to two book clubs, and I don't mind in what form I read a book - a paper one, an electronic one - just let me read.

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