I won this book via a Goodreads giveaway back in March and read all 300+ pages in a few short days. I read it so quickly and hurriedly that — despite wanting to write a glowing review — I didn’t feel like I could do the book justice. I had to re-read it.
Time has slipped by me and I’m only midway through re-reading it now, only to come to realize that this is one of those books that’s impossible to review. I can’t do it justice. I can’t step back and coldly look at the plot and setting and themes and narrator and all those dispassionate elements I generally consider in a review. Why? Because this book is so damn good, that I can’t think about anything other than reading it. Even when I’m not reading it, I’m thinking about reading it.
Here’s my 5-star review:
* * * * *
My initial impression (from the cover and back page blurb) was “eugh, romance, not in the mood”. Then one day I picked it up, read the prologue, and just didn’t stop. This is beautifully written, intimate, heart-breaking, and so very human. Reading it creates an almost painful happiness; there is an honesty to the story that carries you through even the most painful tragedies, and makes you want to reread each line so that you too can bear witness to the bravery, keep those characters alive one moment longer.
The Postmistress is an unforgettable tale of the secrets we must bear or bury. It is about what happens to love during wartime, when those we cherish leave. And how every story of love or war is about looking left when we should have been looking right.
The story is set during World War II. It follows three women whose paths cross due to unexpected circumstances: Iris, a postmistress in Franklin MA; Emma, wife of Franklin’s sole doctor; and Frankie, a radio gal reporting from war-torn London. The war touches all of their lives in very distinct ways, but just as it is not a romance, this is not a war novel, either. What matters is the people: their stories, their choices, and their mistakes.
Where to begin with my no doubt senseless gushing?
Sometimes when you read a book you become one with the main character, and you feel like you can stand between them and their destiny, or at least help them in their plight. Not so with The Postmistress. Here you stand alongside the story, and as much as you ache for the characters all you can do is watch and bear witness to their struggles.
This may explain why something that would generally annoy me — the point of view sliding between characters — did not bother me at all. Not only was it smoothly done, but it felt right to be able to know each character intimately. After all, this is not some murder-mystery with plot twists to conceal; this is real. Every person counts. Pay attention.
I’ll admit, it’s not an easy read. The parts that really hit me the most were Frankie’s — reading about London being blitzed, people hiding in tube stations, people dying…. The young boy who goes home and finds his house gone, only the front door standing…. Then Frankie travels throughout Europe, on the refugee trains, seeking for the truth and just trying to get the news out to America, to tell people to pay attention, but no one does. It made me cry.
Which brings me to the writing. You know when you read a paragraph that’s so right but you can’t pinpoint why, and you just have to re-read it a couple times to savour it? That’s how I felt reading this book. I think it’s the small details; Blake captures the little things in life that matter without us realizing they do. And on the second read it has only gotten better as I’m noticing the interwoven subtleties. I want to write like this. I want my words to have this effect on someone, someday.
Even the ending, which so often disappoints me in a novel, is somehow right. I really cannot think of anything to improve on. It’s gripping, enthralling, emotional, insightful, and best of all the characters are real people. There are no heroic knights or distressed damsels. There are only people — people like you and me — living through very difficult times.
In sum, this is not the kind of book I thought I would like. And I am so very happy that on that day I looked left instead of right, and requested a copy via Goodreads, because it’s the best book I’ve read in a long, long time. What are you waiting for? Go buy it.
This book is one of my 100+ Reading Challenge!