Day 221: The Postmistress

Cover for The PostmistressIn The Postmistress, Frankie Bard is a radio reporter working with Edward R. Murrow in London at the beginning of World War II. She meets an American doctor during the Blitz who has left his new wife at home to come help in London, inspired by Frankie’s broadcasts. He gives her a letter for his wife right before he is hit by a car and killed.

Instead of mailing the letter, Frankie carries it around Europe for three months while she interviews Jews who are fleeing their countries. All that time, the wife, Emma Trask, doesn’t hear from her husband and is not notified of his death. Frankie also witnesses the murders of innocent people by Nazis and never reports them. She just goes home.

In the doctor’s small Massachusetts home town, the postmistress is Iris James. She doesn’t seem to be that important a character, although the book surrounds her with this great mystique that she is the center of the village because she knows all its secrets. What she actually does is withhold a letter to Emma from Dr. Trask’s landlady saying that he has disappeared, and she does this because Emma is pregnant.

I felt this book was entirely frustrating, because I found the characters’ actions inexplicable. What kind of person carries a letter for someone else around in her pocket for three months without mailing it? What kind of reporter witnesses the deaths of innocent people and doesn’t tell anyone about them? A postmistress who withholds a letter from its recipient is disobeying federal law, and I suggest that the upright, responsible Iris wouldn’t think of doing that, let alone reading the letter in the first place. And who would decide it is better for a wife to be left in limbo for years? Trask has already deserted her for the war with very little explanation, which is traumatic enough.

Everything pivotal in this novel seems like a contrivance to me. In addition, the novel that is supposed to be about the postmistress gets hijacked by the reporter, whose actions throughout are irrational. I also feel as though too little attention is paid to the details of life during the war. Frankie’s journey to the continent during the height of German occupation seems to be completed with very little difficulty, and in record time. One reader on Amazon points out that Frankie and her London roommate Harriet have a refrigerator in the room, even though they were uncommon in England in the 1940’s. In other respects, the characters seem oddly untouched by the war. Although Sarah Blake wrote another novel that I enjoyed very much, Grange House, I cannot recommend The Postmistress.

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