12 April 2010

Review: The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake examines one year in the lives of three women who unexpectedly share an intertwined world in the early days of World War II. The story moves from Franklin, Massachusetts, on the tip of Cape Cod, to bomb-weary London in the year before Pearl Harbor.

Iris James, postmaster; Emma Fitch, the doctor's bride; and Frankie Bard, broadcast journalist, hold only one thing in common: Will Fitch. His agreement with Iris, his love for Emma, and his serendipitous connection with Frankie bring the three together, allowing them to find solidity at a moment when each life has been shattered.

In The Postmistress, Blake explores how people can appear to live in the same place and time and yet not share the same reality. Knowledge changes one's existence, thus those who know live in a different world side by side with their less-informed neighbors. At what point, if ever, do you share the facts, forever altering another's memories?

A second strong theme is the idea of fate. Some, like Emma, struggle with the concept:

Life seemed to her like a city hotel with many floors. She did not like to think of all the hallways she'd never seen, nor all the hallways that she might have walked along if she had gotten off at a different floor. She didn't like to think that there was more than one hallway than the one she was in--one in which she hadn't met Will. (pp. 68-69)
Others, like Will, accept it:
"And one day, I got it. I lifted my head from the child's chest I was listening to and realized, with a shock of relief: whatever is coming, comes. That's what holds it all together. We are all of us here in the mess. There's no way around it." (p. 159)
Additional threads include the nature of broadcast journalism, attitudes about the war before December 1941, and whether love is ever enough. This multilayered novel is a recommended choice for book clubs.

Note that the book is not without a few flaws. The frame story of The Postmistress does not come full circle, which was a bit of a disappointment, although it did not detract from the core of the novel. At least one event near the end came suddenly and had little followup, which leaves the reader wondering whether it added to the story.

These are, however, minor issues. The writing is beautiful, the characters are approachable, and the story will stick with you.

The Postmistress at Powell's
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Published by Putnam/Amy Einhorn, 2010
ISBN-13: 9780399156199

Challenges: New Author, What's in a Name, Historical Fiction, Amy Einhorn, 100+
YTD: 32
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: A−


JoAnn 4/12/10, 6:54 AM  

A friend from my book club just read this and recommended it to the group. We generally wait for books to be released in paperback, but it sounds like this would be a very 'discussable' book.

Beth 4/12/10, 7:56 AM  

I really enjoyed this book and I think it really brings out a lot of emotions and issues that would make it perfect for a book club.

Care 4/12/10, 7:57 AM  

I've seen this book on SO MANY must read lists that I'm starting to think I've already read it. If I ever read this, I'm going to wait a few years for the hype to die down.

Julie P. 4/12/10, 8:01 AM  

I need to write this review and actually have it on my to-do list for today. I enjoyed it but wouldn't go so far as to say I loved it. I still can't put my finger on why.

caite 4/12/10, 8:31 AM  

I have read a few good reviews of this one recently. I must say, the premise sounds interesting and I will keep it on my radar.

Charlie 4/12/10, 9:12 AM  

I've read so much about this and was very tempted to pick it up when I saw it in the shop, especially as I hadn't been looking for it at the time. I reckon I should remember it over some others I'm wanting.

Nely 4/12/10, 11:42 AM  

I've had an ARC of this in my shelves for many months now. I'm going to have to read it soon - all the reviews make it sound wonderful.

Lovely review, as always, dahling.


bermudaonion 4/12/10, 12:18 PM  

I enjoyed this book, too, but thought the beginning was pretty slow.

Sandy Nawrot 4/12/10, 12:19 PM  

This book is just sitting on my Kindle waiting for some attention. Probably over the summer, while we are traveling, I will go on a Kindle-reading binge!

Jenny 4/12/10, 1:34 PM  

This book sounds like totally my kind of thing! The themes you describe are really interesting to me. Putting it on hold right now! Only tenth on the queue, that's not so bad!

Cath 4/12/10, 2:30 PM  

This book has been on my Kindle for a long time but I sort of abandoned the idea of reading it because I read so many bad reviews. Still, it keeps lurking there on the fringes of my mind, and I'm glad to read your review, to know this book is worthwhile. Thanks!

Carrie K. 4/12/10, 3:45 PM  

I have this one waiting on my TBR shelf - but it's borrowed from a friend, so will have to wait until after ROOB. Glad it's a great read!

Melody 4/12/10, 8:16 PM  

I have read so many good reviews on this book, and I'm glad I bought it!

bookmagic 4/12/10, 9:10 PM  

I read this with B&N First Look and really enjoyed it.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 4/12/10, 9:20 PM  

I just came from Kathy's review of THE POSTMISTRESS (there's something in the air today) ...

You have a brilliant analysis of "sharing the same reality"; what perfect phrasing.

I think you and I are probably thinking of the same 'rushed' event toward the end (we'll have to discuss, off line!)

Kristi 4/12/10, 9:29 PM  

I enjoyed how you compared the different characters' views of fate - the quotes show off beautiful writing.

I have had my eye on this one for a while. I'm looking forward to the chance to read it.

Michele 4/12/10, 11:30 PM  

This one has been on my wishlist for a bit now....I really, really want to read this. Loved reading your review....now I know I want to read it. ;)

Unknown 4/13/10, 6:24 AM  

This one seems to divide opinion. I am seeing very mixed reviews for it. I can't decide whether I should read it or not, but your review is pushing me towards getting a copy.

Bobbie 4/13/10, 8:34 AM  

I just tried to order this from our library and the waiting list is 146 people so a lot of people must think it is worth the read:) Can't wait to get a hold of it. Thanks for your awesome review!

Margot 4/13/10, 2:01 PM  

I read this one with Barnes and Noble's First Look Book Club. I'm one of the few who didn't care for it. That's unusual for me since I tend to like most everything I read. I'm glad you liked it.

I read and reviewed this book before the start of the Amy Einhorn Challenge but I'm going to count it as read for the challenge, if that's okay. I don't want to have to read it again.

Jenners 4/13/10, 8:42 PM  

Thanks for the great review.

Amused 4/13/10, 11:30 PM  

I just got this one and am so excited to read this one! Your review makes me more so!

Mystica 4/14/10, 10:46 PM  

Thank you for your review.

Marg 4/20/10, 11:58 PM  

I really enjoyed this, particularly the sections from Frankie's point of view as she travelled around Europe. So moving, and not something I had ever seen portrayed before.

Alice 4/25/10, 6:34 AM  

Like I've just posted on Kathy's post on her review of the same book, I regretted not buying it when I saw it at the bookstores weeks ago. I first read about it on PW.

Jen - devourer of books 4/26/10, 2:54 PM  

I loved this book, but I think that you may be right and the framing may have left a little something to be desired.

Holly 5/5/10, 9:47 PM  

This sounds like a book I would really like. I'm hoping to get my hands on a copy soon. Thanks for the great review :)

Anna 5/7/10, 10:16 PM  

I've seen mixed reviews of this one, but it's on my to-read list, simply because I eat up books set during WWII.

I hope it's okay that I linked to your review on the Book Reviews: WWII page on War Through the Generations.

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