I was reluctant to read yet another World War II novel, mainly because my KCLS Tuesday night book group read probably every popular WWII book written in the past 10 years last year, and though I enjoyed most of them, I got a bit tired of the subject matter after the third book.
Yet The Postmistress has been touted as one of the great character novels on the second world war, blurbed by a number of modern lit writers who gushed about it's "lapidary" prose, riveting characters and insightful plot.
Plus, there's a main character, Frankie Bard, who is a broadcast journalist working with Edward R Murrow to put a human face, or voice, on the London Blitz.
I can never resist a 'female journalist' in peril story, so I tucked in with all due fervor.
The Postmistress is extraordinarily well written, the prose elegant, lush and melodic, even when describing the horrors of German bombs destroying historic buildings and hundreds of men, women and children. Frankie Bard ends up on the train to Lisbon, and trains all over Europe, recording the voices of Jews fleeing for their lives, many unsuccessfully. It's interesting that Blake was able to take those voices and interweave them with the voices of the other characters, Will Fitch, a doctor and his wife from a small town in Massachusetts, Iris James, the postmistress for the town, her beau Harry Vale, the town mechanic who thinks the Germans will land a U-Boat in their harbor, and Otto, a German Jewish refugee who encounters prejudice in his town of refuge. Together they create a tapestry that is sad and majestic at the same time.
There were so many outstanding paragraphs, it is hard to choose one, but this one struck me as particularly poignant:
"This is how war knocks down the regular, steady life we set up against the wolf at the door. Because the wolf is not hunger, it is accident--the horrid, fatal mistake of turning left to go to the nearest tube station, rather than right to take the long way around. Harriet Mendelsohn of the Associated Press died last night in the bombs. She had been covering the war om Europe for two years. If a journalist goes down, tradition has it that others of us in the press corps step in to file their story. And the story of the boy coming home (to a bombed out building, all his relatives dead) is a story she would have written, only better, far better than I. I tell it to you tonight because Harriet can't."
Though I didn't feel much sympathy for Emma Fitch, who seemed fairly immature and wimpy, I did feel compassion for all the other characters trying to make do, trying to do the right thing while death hung over them as if someone had flung a cloak around their shoulders. They all struggled with morality, with the nature of happiness and love, and all were touched by the death of a loved one, in this case, Will Fitch, who speaks his last words to Frankie Bard.
This is a sad book, but written with such tenderness and care, it is worth the heavy heart the reader is left with at the end.
A solid A for the intrepid souls who lived and died in 1941 in London and America.