Title: The Postmistress
Paperback: 316 pages
Publication Date: 06/01/2011
As a reader of a lot of crime and thriller fiction, I obviously like to portray myself as a bit of a macho man! However, don’t let that façade fool you. For, beneath my Kevlar vest lies a real, beating heart. One that almost revealed itself [rather embarrassingly] whilst I was reading The Postmistress on the tube the other day. And, as any Londoner will tell you, the tube is not a place to show emotion [it's a jungle where only the strong survive!]. So I hastily stamped down my feelings and put back on my usual steely glower to scare off any other commuters who might have the temerity to invade my personal space.
For this novel is a bit of a tear-jerker. Although, having said that, literature about the Second World War tends to get to me – I wept inconsolably whilst reading Goodnight Mister Tom [in my defence, I was about eight at the time!]. The book revolves around three central protagonists/heroines: postmistress Iris James, doctor’s wife Emma Fitch and war reporter and radio ‘personality’ Frankie Bard [the former two both live in a small community in Franklin, Massachusetts, whilst Frankie is located for most of the novel in war-torn Europe]. And these three women are linked by an event that I can’t really say much about [for fear of spoiling the book for people].
The real strength of the book is Blake’s ability to infuse the pages with the sense of danger, uncertainty and fragility that existed in Europe at the time, whilst simultaneously making the action all feel very immediate. And you really get a sense of quite how important blind chance was in determining people’s fate, especially in the middle segment of the novel, when Frankie travels across Nazi-occupied Europe [which was incredibly poignant and, for me, the stand-out part of the novel].
One slight gripe was with an aspect of the representation of Iris’s love interest, Harry Vale [a man who smells of axle grease and Old Spice – so he’s a proper man, unlike me!]. For the most part he seems a very personable and nice individual. Except for the fact that he seems to have a slightly Freudian obsession with the town’s flagpole, and spends an inordinate amount of his time watching the coast through binoculars, claiming that German U-boats could turn up at any point. I’m not saying that there wasn’t a chance of this happening, but the way that Harry is described ‘on the lookout’ just makes him seem a bit unhinged.
Ultimately though, The Postmistress is a very well written and researched book, with some genuinely affecting moments. And I can certainly see why it is selling so well in the UK, and it is certainly perfect reading group material [it’s no surprise that it was a Richard & Judy Book Club selection].