In the middle of World War II, Americans listen to radio personalities like Frankie Bard, who bring the war inEurope into their living rooms, and believe the President who promises to keep their boys will remain at home. In Franklin, Massachusetts, Dr. Will Fitch leaves his new wife Emma behind to travel to London and throw himself in the midst of danger that most seek to avoid. Dr. Fitch entrusts the town’s postmistress, Iris James, with a letter for Emma in case he never returns home. It will be Iris, he says, who will have to give Emma the final news.
With a shock of red hair, mismatched red lipstick and a penchant for order, Iris is the sole communicator of news, doling out mail to the residents of the small town. She prides herself on catching mistakes others would miss and never, ever, staring at the contents of an envelope through the light. But, one day, Iris finds herself holding a letter over steam, slipping it open and storing it in a drawer instead of delivering it to the recipient.
In London, Frankie Bard wanders the city, bringing the sounds of the streets to the faraway American listeners. Her descriptions of the Blitz have many mesmerized, glued to the radios in their homes. As Frankie sets off across Europe, she plans on following displaced Jewish families and recording their stories. Hopping one train after another alongside the thousands of refugees, Frankie sees more than she bargained for and becomes lost in the throngs of emotions and the haunting voices emanating from her recorder. Returning home to the states, it is the unmailed letter in her pocket and the final words of a stranger that beckon her to Franklin, bringing the story full circle.
The Postmistress was slow to start, but after a few chapters, I found myself absorbed in the story and attached to the characters. However, I found the name of the novel and back cover blurb to be at odds with the story within. Both implied that Iris James and her decision to hold back a letter were integral to the plot. In reality, Iris’ decision came towards the end of the book when it had little impact on the events already in motion. It was Frankie and her travels that took center stage and tugged at the heart strings – at least in my experience.
Title and book blurb aside, The Postmistress is an impressive debut novel by Sarah Blake. It is complex, beautifully written and above all, profoundly sad. The Postmistress is a story of love in the midst of war, of carefree naivete of one country while people die in another, of the desperate hope of the people trying to survive against all odds.
Please visit Sarah Blake’s website for more information.
This book was provided free of any obligation by Berkley Trade. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.