Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Postmistress - Sarah Blake

I have a degree in history, so as you might imagine, I love a good war story. The Postmistress, however, is not a good war story. It's not really even a good story on its own.

The novel is supposed to be based on the life of the postmistress in a small town on Cape Cod. The thrilling thesis: what if the postmistress never delivered a letter? Gasp! ...not really.

Instead of being about that, it flitters back and forth between the stories of two women in two countries. World War II is in full swing and these women are enduring it. The novel has small town banter and points out the plight of the Jewish people living in Europe, but nothing new for fictional World War II novels.

I think the problem is less about the fact that this is a tired story line, and more about the fact that there is no action. There's no thrill. The author dully drolls on about woman one in the most bland way possible, then carries on another 20 pages about woman two, in an equally boring and stale storyline. There is no climax or resolution because there is no action. Even though she threw in a couple fairly pointless sex scenes, the overall feeling of the story didn't change. It's just a story. It never builds, then slowly peters off in the end.

Now, I will give Blake one compliment: her verbiage is fantastic. She writes so romantically and seemingly effortlessly. It was the one element of this novel that kept me reading. The content, however, also seemed effortless, which I think was her downfall. If you're going to write in romantic prose, at least give us a feisty leading lady or true romance, a la Austen, or keep it short like Dickinson.

I'm actually wondering how much Kathryn Stockett was paid to review the novel, because her comment on the cover about how "beautifully written" and "thought-provoking" it is was the grain that encouraged me to read The Postmistress in the first place. I'm a little worried that if this is the caliber of material Stockett is endorsing, maybe the beauty of The Help was a fluke? I would like to think Stockett will put out more amazing works, but I have to wonder. It's not like I picked up this book and the cover reviewer was Cosmopolitan. At least when I pick up those books, I know what I'm in for.

I was hoping for another Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Didn't get it. If you're really bored and this happens to be the only book on your shelf you haven't read, go ahead and read it. Otherwise, I wouldn't recommend it.



  1. Hmm, I'm reading quite a good one at the moment by Jed Rubenfeld, The Death Instinct, a follow up to The Interpretation Of Murder, but set in the early 20th Century, the first book pre-WW1 and the second post war. The guy's a law professor rather than a historian though, so I'm not sure if I'd find any of the US historical facts gratingly wrong if they were so (since I studied WW1 from the British point of view)

  2. High five, fellow history major! My compatriots in my history PhD program and I occasionally toss around the idea of authoring historically-themed bodice rippers instead of dry academic prose, but as your review points out, fiction is harder than it looks. I think I'll take my chances with non-fiction!

    In general, book blurbs on the cover don't mean much. They might have blurbed it because the author is a friend, or because their agent told them to. They might have the same publisher and the publisher is trying to lift a book with an author with recent success. They may not have even read the book (notice how most cover blurbs are as generic as they come?) Much better off trying to find a literate review on Amazon or on something like LibraryThing.

    Sorry it was no good! So frustrating to start a book with high hopes and have it not measure up. :(

  3. Would love to hear some of your recommendations Danny. I like this genre but love to know what others have enjoyed. Funny you should mention the Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie book - I just finished it last week and I loved it. Quirky, funny, touching. I was sad when it was over.

  4. I so agree. I didn't even finish this book it was so boring.

  5. Thanks for the truthful review! I won't be downloading this book.

  6. I read another book called the post office girl by Stefan Zweig. That was boring too. - must be something in the name!


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