Friday, April 16, 2010

Review: Letters through a war

If you haven't yet read at least one review of Sarah Blake's The Postmistress, then I am very surprised. Because it was the "It" book of March, I'm going to keep my summary short—you've probably read enough about it already.

First, let me start with my thought-processes going into this book. The Postmistress is the next BIG title to come out of the Amy Einhorn imprint. After the success of The Help, it seems like everyone has such high hopes for any Amy Einhorn title. These titles supposedly seek "that perfect blend of literary and commercial," which I like to call "easy reading that has more depth than chick-lit." This is true, but I must admit I'm a bit wary of the imprint on a whole; people expect every Amy Einhorn book to be just faaaabulous, and I would rather discover them individually than define them as "great" based on their publisher.

Further, this was the first full novel I read on my eReader [one advantage...library hold lists aren't very long for digital copies]. It was hard to get used to. Being used to the physicality of books, I struggled when I couldn't flip back a few pages to recall a character, and I had no physical context for passages I remembered (ie: "I don't know what page it's on, but it's in the top third of the page..."). Eventually I got used to it, but I still prefer a hard copy.

Now about the actual book. It's World War II, right before the U.S. officially enters the war. Iris James is the Postmaster of a small town in Massachusetts (because there's no such thing as a "Postmistress," only a "Postmaster"); Emma Fitch is the new wife of the town doctor, stuck alone after her husband leaves for London to help with the war effort. Iris holds a powerful position in town, as all news come directly through her, and Emma finds herself waiting around the post office for word of Will. Meanwhile, Frankie Bard is an American reporter working in London, a woman whose voice is familiar to both Iris and Emma through radio waves. The lives of these three women intersect through letters, and they each must decide how much the truth matters.

I had some pros and cons about this book. For one, I loved the setting. I can't remember any other novel I've read that threw me into a war setting with as much detail and emotion. It was amazing to hear the details of destruction in Europe...and especially to see how it has so drastically recovered in relatively few years. I also loved Frankie. She has an American naivety, but she can't be blamed for it; she is seeing a situation unlike any she has experienced before. I loved to hear how her experiences changed her thought-processes and developed her as a character. In terms of the negative, I didn't feel anything for the either two women. For a book essentially named after Iris, she didn't have as much of a role as I would've expected—Frankie was really the star of the novel. Plus, Iris just seemed grumpy. And Emma, she was just helpless, almost to the point where you felt sorry for her, but mostly I just rolled my eyes at her.

I thought the ending seemed trite...But perhaps one of my biggest annoyances was the Note from the Author at the very end. In it, Blake discusses her research (which was clearly a lot, and props to her for that because she definitely set the scene very well) and (here's the kicker) what she was trying to say in this book. Umm. Shouldn't she have gotten that point across in the previous 300 pages? If you need to sum it up at the end to tell the reader your point, maybe you should've done some more editing...because you're supposed to get that point across in the novel itself.

Maybe I'm just being picky. I did enjoy reading it, and I know lots of women will think it's fabulous and the greatest book of the spring/summer...but I doubt it will really stick with me.

What did everyone else think?


Jenny said...

I haven't read this one and I'm really torn about whether or not to. I know there was all this buzz about the book and some people have said how absolutely wonderful it is. But then I've also heard a lot of people say they were disappointed. You reviewed it really well though!

Kari said...

Well thanks! If you do read it, I suggest waiting a while til the hype dies down and you kinda forget about it.

Kari said...

Well thanks! If you do read it, I suggest waiting a while til the hype dies down and you kinda forget about it.

Natasha @ Maw Books said...

I admit I didn't read your review entirely as I am about two chapters into the book right now. I love World War II books so I hope that this was pans out!