Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

Iris James is the new postmaster of Franklin; she spends her time watching the townspeople and keeping their secrets.  Emma Fitch is newly wed to the local doctor and moves to the Cape Cod town, she is desperate to find her niche and have someone to look after her.  Frankie Bard is a journalist, covering the war in London, reporting back to America via radio.  The war is far removed from the town, but it affects all three women.

This is a Richard and Judy book club choice and had great reviews...I'm a sucker for all that and liked the cover, so I gave it a go.  Unfortunately, I can't say I like it.  Yes, it's well written and there were parts when Frankie was in Europe that I found compelling, but overall I was underwhelmed and glad to get to the end.
I didn't really warm to any of the main characters.  Middle-aged Iris moves to Franklin, but there's no backstory to the move.  What is so important about her getting a certificate from the doctor? What makes the relationship with Harry work, because I couldn't see any point for either of them.  Harry's convenient demise when he finally finds what he's been looking for was really annoying and felt like a cop out.  Emma seems simply needy and I can't really blame her husband for disappearing to London, although he is a bit of a sap too.  Frankie is the strongest character, and her coverage of the plight of the Jews is fascinating, but I wasn't convinced by how it changed her.  The book slips over some potentially interesting questions, such as how did Frankie get out of Europe?
All the major characters are either watching or being watched, this made the book feel claustrophobic but also strangely removed.  The idea of keeping secrets and withholding information fitted well into the wartime setting, but I couldn't really see the point.  Emma had clearly worked out that for whatever reason her husband wasn't coming back and both Frankie and Iris deciding to avoid the issue seems fairly pointless.
The idea of being the story of the edges of the photo is threaded throughout the book and I felt that as a reader I was being kept at a distance, very much at the edge and the whole thing was rather superficial.  The love stories woven through just didn't touch me and so the losses were correspondingly less affecting.
I think it's best to sum it up as a "classic book club" choice as there is lots to discuss, but not necessarily enjoy.  Parts are beautifully crafted and there was evidently huge research behind it all, but I just didn't get it.