Customer Reviews: The Postmistress
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VINE VOICEon November 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In 1940, the lives of three women could not be more different as war rages in Europe. Iris James, postmistress of Franklin, Massachusetts, believes in order and details. She takes great pride in her work. All communications in the town come through her. The whole system works because of the neat efficient system and the trust. She keeps all the secrets of the residents, but one day, she breaks with everything she has ever believed, slipping a letter into her pocket. Emma Trask, wife of the town's doctor Will Fitch, listens to all the radio broadcasts from London with her husband. When a tragedy provokes a change in her husband and a determination to go over to Europe, Emma guards herself against the tides of war raging across a distant ocean. In London, Frankie Bard, works with Edward R. Murrow. Frankie listens to Murrow's story advice, yet her spirit chafes against the all the strictures and protocol imposed on her. Feisty, fearless and somewhat brash, she wants to get out the truth and stir her listeners to action. In 1941, Frankie rides the trains out of Germany, reporting on the war, listening to the voices of the so-called refugees. As she sees the war unfolding from a different perspective, her whole idea about the story itself changes.

In THE POSTMISTRESS, Sarah Blake looks at World War II through the eyes of three distinct women all connected through means of private and public media. In many ways, THE POSTMISTRESS itself follows Frankie's conception of a news story as story and herein lies the beauty of the novel. Sarah Blake's novel does not follow the traditional concepts of a novel. THE POSTMISTRESS tells the story of World War II through the edges, in the lives of the three women and the events of their lives, often events that even seem unrelated to the larger scene playing out in the world. Indeed, the emotional impact of the story builds as Frankie stops trying to tell the truth of the war and listens to the voices of those around her. The "truth" of the war often emerges in the edges, in those stories told and unspoken by the press and even the characters to some extent. Although Sarah Blake draws on the history and historical figures of the times, THE POSTMISTRESS is not a historical novel filled with date and details from the history books. The reader will not find all the horrific details of the Holocaust or the London Blitz and yet, in telling the story through the edges of war scene, THE POSTMISTRESS allows the reader's imagination to enter the story. With the copious amount of World War II history and fiction published, readers undoubtedly are more than familiar with the main story of the War, and yet, THE POSTMISTRESS brings a freshness to the story. For this reader, THE POSTMISTRESS, is one of the first to tell the story of the trains from a viewpoint that truly engages imagination and emotion in both the details of individuals, sometimes even the characters for whom only a name and place is known, who might have experienced the events. Like Frankie's approach to the story, less is sometimes more. Equally, the conflicts and struggles of Emma Fitch and Iris James bring a whole other emotional dimension and texture to the story.

THE POSTMISTRESS is a wonderful blend of popular women's fiction and literary fiction. The novel gains more emotional power and intellectual interest as it progresses. The first part reads more like light women's fiction as the author introduces the three women whose lives will touch one another's. Frankie's development, however, guides the heart of the story, developing the lens through which the richness of the other characters emerges. The beginning of the story actually gains more relevance and emotional depth in hindsight, as Frankie's less traditional concept of a news story begins to cast the novel itself within a different framework. THE POSTMISTRESS is a story of women's lives, of life, death and love during WWII, and by end, a story about the art of storytelling itself.
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on March 5, 2010
Honestly - I wanted to love this book. I wanted to fall down in adoration and sing its praises and recommend it to everyone I know. I mean - look at it. The cover is beautiful. The title catching, simple, perfect. The premise a beautiful one, the story of two women who were unable to simply.. do their job, in a time when doing their job was one of the hardest things they could possibly do.

So on one hand, while there were moments I was extremely touched (mostly during speeches made and newscasts made), I felt as if Blake stopped just short of really getting somewhere with the character. I felt anger and frustration because I wanted to know these characters. I wanted to know Emma and Iris and Frankie. I wanted to know what made them tick. I wanted to know what made Iris do that incredibly crazy thing at the start and why Frankie felt so compelled to go to London to report the news. I wanted to know why Emma was separated from her husband for so long and how she handled the unexpected gift he left behind for her.

Instead I was left with a story that tried to tell too much in too short a time. Instead of focusing in and really delving into the characters we were only given a glimpse and that is why this book isn't getting the high praise I desperately wanted to give it. I have never felt so incredibly frustrated after reading a novel. There was so much potential here - so much that could have been told.
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VINE VOICEon December 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
With a setting during WWII and the fairly novel (for the time) idea of a female broadcast journalist at its core, "The Postmistress" seemed like a promising book. To be sure, the author has a way with words, crafting some lovely phrases and metaphors. But ultimately, they are not enough to offset a book that lacks heart, and as a consequence, it was a rather plodding read. Like another reviewer, I only finished it because I felt obligated to review it for the Vine program.

It's hard to figure how a story revolving around one of the seminal events of the 20th century, one that devastated millions of lives and continues to cast an ominous shadow nearly 70 years later, could be tedious, predictable and, at times, even trite, but that's what Sarah Blake has managed to write. The main characters--Frankie, the Smith alum journalist; Emma, the doctor's new wife; Iris, the spinster postmaster of the small Cape Cod town where half the book is set; Harry, the town mechanic and Iris's lover; and Will, the doctor who runs away to London to escape his past and aid victims of the Blitz--are not well enough drawn to elicit any emotional response from the reader (at least not this reader). We never really get to know them except in the most superficial way, and because of that, it's almost impossible to care about any of them. Instead, the author seemed so intent on tying together the rather improbable coincidences in the plot (would Will really run into Frankie in a London bomb shelter after her broadcasts inspired him to leave his wife and help with the British war effort?) that she lost sight of the fact that it is the characters who drive the plot forward. These folks all just seemed along for the ride.

The book also has identity problems. Although it clearly aspires to be literary fiction, it is more of a romance, with too much formula and too little substance, the author's attention to historical detail notwithstanding. I used to edit mass market paperbacks in a prior life, including genre fiction, and this had all too much in common with historical romances (aka bodice rippers) and Harlequin romances but with too little of any of the elements that attract the devotees of those genres. At other times, it seemed almost like reportage of the characters' lives, too removed from the events at hand and their effects on the characters to pull the reader in. Yet that reportage was largely impressionistic, in that there were various plot elements that were not resolved nicely. What was Frankie's trip from Bayonne back to Paris like? What was going through her mind when she crossed the Channel? Instead, we find her back in America en route to Franklin, with only passing references to how she got there. And then the last chapter or two were crammed with events, as if the author was finally bored and wanted to tie things up and move on.

Also disconcerting was the author's tendency to switch points of view from one character to the next with little or no warning. Not only is omniscient point of view difficult to pull off well, the constantly shifting perspective created confusion and contributed to the lack of connection with the characters.

The only time "The Postmistress" approached any kind of emotional depth was when Frankie was recording the details of the refugees' lives, including the two that continued to haunt her. But those were too few and too far between, and Blake's repeated references to them came to detract from their power. The brief attention paid to Otto, the Austrian refugee living in Franklin, MA, also promised to finally infuse the book with an emotional dimension, but again it was too fleeting and cursory to fulfill its promise. How did he wind up in a small resort town on Cape Cod, rather than in one of the East Coast cities? Who was he in his previous life? What happened to him?

I also have an issue with the promotional copy for the book, which implies that a decision by the postmaster/mistress not to deliver a letter was a pivotal event. Instead it came about 3/4 of the way through the book and while it tugged at Iris's conscience briefly, it in no way advanced the plot, nor did it reveal anything about the character. It's probably reflective of the book's myriad problems that the editor had to seize on something so late in the story and so inconsequential to try to sell the book.

I actually think Sarah Blake has a lot of promise as a writer, and the idea behind "The Postmistress" was interesting, but she has a lot of seasoning ahead of her before she will realize that potential. I'd suggest giving this one a miss and seeing what she comes up with later in her career.
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on April 17, 2010
This book was recommended by a friend at work and boy was I disappointed. I chose it as my book club selection and the overall impression from my group was the same. The book was a painfully slow read and was abandoned by 3 of my book clubbers. This has never happened. The characters were poorly developed and not very sympathetic. The name selection was also poor because the postmistress is only one of the many characters and her keeping the letter didn't happen til the end of the book. I thought that was going to be the central idea of the whole book. I LOVED The Help and having Kathryn Stockett endorse this book was very deceiving. Can't choose a book based on who endorses it anymore. Sorry Sarah Blake, maybe next time.
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on May 2, 2010
I like to read for several reasons: to meet well-developed characters I can relate to; to explore places or historical periods I could not do otherwise; and to feel enlightened in some way by the experience that transpires on the pages of the book. This book did none of that for me and was the most disappointing book I have read in a very long time.

The characters were flat, totally unsympathetic, and not ones I could muster up any positive feeling for. In fact, the postmistress and the reporter both annoyed me so much that I wanted to reach into the book and shake them and scream, "Are you crazy? Why are you doing that?" Both of these women betrayed everything they stood for and for what purpose? Their less-than-admirable actions had no positive impact. If we all lied about the things we could not bear, the world would be a very sad place.

Although World War II is one of my favorite periods to read about and I have enjoyed many, many novels set in this period, I felt this particular story did not pack an emotional punch or bring the reader into the true horror of living in England during the bombings. People were dying daily and to allow a main character to have loveless sex with an anonymous stranger on the street corner was not a good way to put me into the story or to emphasize this character is suppose to be a strong woman. Emma, the doctor's wife, was the only character I could have any feeling for and yet, she was not completely defined and I felt the majority of her story was missing.

Critics are quoted on the jacket as saying the story is unforgettable. Well, I hope to forget how terrible it was and move on to a story I can really enjoy. Reading is as vital to my being as breathing, and I am amazed a story so jerky, disconnected, and just plain dull saw the light of publication.
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on April 11, 2010
I honestly felt cheated after reading this book. I felt like it wanted to be a good read, but it just didn't have the necessary elements. There were some good characters, but they were never really fleshed out. The story line had potential, but did not reach out to grab the reader's heart. Put simply, this book lacked the emotion to make the reader truly care about these people. What a disappointment. I expected to love The Postmistress, but instead, muddled my way through.
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on April 12, 2010
I purchased this book for our book club after reading Kathryn Stockett's review. I read The Help and enjoyed it so much I thought the author could not go wrong. I read and read but could not find anything redeemable in this book. I was actually embarrased because I chose the book for our next meeting.
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on August 3, 2011
Sarah Blake's novel starts off as a compelling read; the writing is lovely and the introduction of the characters stokes one's curiosity - who are they, what are they really about and where are they headed? Unfortunately, about midway through the book, the story is diminished by its thinness and, as many have noted, the lack of character development. The period is intriguing - WWII prior to US involvement - and Blake captures the isolationist feelings well, symbolized by inward-looking Cape-Codders. Radio broadcasting, too, from that time is well-researched as is the sense of human dread within Europe as Nazism takes hold. But the central premise of withholding a letter and the consequences therein don't measure up to an engaging read - by the end of the book, this reader found this plot tool way too drawn out and ultimately unimportant in the scheme of things considering the times.

I didn't really feel I got to know any of the characters after the early excitement of meeting them and I agree with other reviewers that the constant switching of narrating voice added to that problem. Emma seemed weak and pathetically wishy-washy - I mean for God's sake, stop dragging yourself to the post office and try and find out what happened to your husband! Husband Will's rash act to put himself in harm's way during London's blitz seemed a strange and ultimately selfish atonement. Frankie and Iris, both strong women, seem diluted and dull as the story winds down.

I couldn't wait to pick the book up again in the early chapters, but found it tiresome and uninteresting as it devolved into sentimentality and a tedious attempt at philosophical "what-ifs".
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on August 9, 2011
I'm exhausted after slogging through this novel so I won't say much except I wish I had thrown in the towel early on. She should follow her own advice. Get in, get the story, and get out. Only she retold point after point after point.
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on February 12, 2011
I belong to a ten member book club. Only two of us finished the book. I finished it solely because it was our book club pick. I never would have finished it otherwise. Bottom line ... we just could not "get into" this book.
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