Since late last year I’ve had a growing fascination about the Second World War. I can’t quite place why but as Cameron’s austerity measures continue to make headlines and the threat of privatising the NHS (which was founded in post-war Britain in 1948) gets closer to becoming a reality, it’s made me ponder about how life must have been during and after the war.
In Margate where I live there’s a blossoming vintage and retro scene and all things 1940s are sought after and heralded as coming from a better time where values and morals counted and quality and workmanship reigned supreme (which baffles me a little as the hardship faced and the very real effects of severe austerity during this time are all too well-known).
And I suppose, as I’m now in my thirties and seeing my last remaining grandparent get frailer and ever closer to passing away, I think more about my ancestry and my grandparents’ lives, especially that of my granddad who died when I was 4 and was held as a prisoner of war in Malta during WWII, and who’s friend got shot standing right next to him and is my father’s namesake.
So it was no surprise that sooner rather than later I was going to read a novel set in war time. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake is described by Kathryn Scott, author of The Help (which I loved) as
A beautifully written, thought provoking novel that I’m telling everyone I know to read
The blurb on the back of the book is as follows…
The wireless crackles with news of blitzed-out London and of the war that courses through Europe, leaving destruction in its wake. Listening intently on the other side of the Atlantic, newly-wed Emma considers the fragility of her peaceful married life as America edges closer to the brink of war. As the reporter’s distant voice fills the room, she sits convincing herself that the sleepy town of Franklin must be far beyond the war’s reach.
But the life of American journalist Frankie, whose voice seems so remote, will soon be deeply entangled with her own. With the delivery of a letter into the hands of postmistress Iris, the fates of these three women become irrevocably linked. But while it remains unopened, can Iris keep its truth at bay?
With this blurb and the chick lit-esque front cover, I wasn’t expecting much. It took quite a while for me to get used to Blake’s writing style. I never normally notice what nationality an author is but her writing made me consider the differences between British and American writers. To which I concluded that in fact, Blake just has a strange writing style, to me anyway.
But thankfully by about page 100 I got really into the story. I loved the idea of Frankie Bard the brave reporter who wanted to discover what was really happening to the Jews and who had left home and country to be right on the front line of news. But Emma and Iris just never took hold of me, and I found them quite sappy and mopey. I could have easily just read about Frankie’s experiences and the middle part of the book is by far the best.
It was grittier than I was expecting, but there were some sentences that were plainly repeated from earlier passages in the book and towards the end you discovered that the American term for postmistress was in fact not gender specific and rather postmaster, which infuriated me a little as Iris was American and her part of the story was about her experiences in America.
All in all I gave this book a 3 out of 5, but I think I was feeling generous and it was purely because at some points I got totally absorbed in Frankie’s tale. But I was hurrying to finish the book so that I could start another, which is never a good sign…
So onto the next – Robert Harris’s Fatherland – a post-war thriller that looks at life in the 1960s, if the Nazis and Hitler had won. I hope I’m not being a glutton for war crime punishment.