For those unfamiliar with the book, it follows the lives of several people during World War II– primarily, the years 1940 and 1941. As in any war book, there are bound to be some chapters of sadness and others of redemption. Although there were scenes in which violence occured, it was less graphic than other war books I’ve read. This, to me, is both good and bad. The story is not primarily about the war, exactly. It’s mostly about the lives of people–Frankie Bard, Iris James, Emma Fitch, Will Fitch, and Henry Vale– during the war years. I enjoyed that aspect about it because they were still the same people before the war, but they could not ignore the changes and occurrences of their daily lives that happened in the early 1940s.
I also really enjoyed the trans-continental aspect of it. The stories take place in London and a small northern Massachusetts town, and they eventually intersected through various actions. I found it interesting because in London the Blitz is occurring when the story opens. However, back in the states, the war hasn’t even touched those people directly like that. Blake gave two very different perspectives which I found necessary to explain the feelings and actions of the characters.
I loved the U-boat angle to the novel. I wrote a report my freshman year in college about the U-boat plan to invade and attack America’s shores. I voluntarily read a 300 page documentary about it and then wrote an 18 page paper full of information that astounded me. Did you (even WWII buffs) have any idea that U-boats were so, so, so, close to our shores? They were at Cape Hatteras, they were only miles from New York. Assimilating the search for U-boats off Franklin, Massachusetts in the story was a great way of incorporating little known history.
Blake’s writing is descriptive with an underlying melancholia that echoes through the entire novel. Each of the main characters faces an internal and external problem, which are separate but in the end entangle within the other people’s problems. Blake’s story (or stories, really) dives into the issue of morality and self preservation. Each character seeks a purpose in life and each fears he or she is slipping through the cracks. In these aspects the book was very relateable to me and I’m sure to many people who have experienced similar feelings.
However, the novel did present some negatives. For one, the postmistress was not (in my opinion) the protagonist. I believe Blake wished to portray Miss James as some sort of omniscient and all-powerful being in control of everyone in town and the other characters. However, I believe it is not Miss James but Frankie Bard who is the protagonist. I do not wish to give anything away for those who haven’t read it yet, but the ending itself proves that Frankie really is the all knowing and all powerful one. She, in a way, is very much like a postmistress.
Also, the love between Emma and Dr Fitch wasn’t very convincing. I was sure there was something underlying between their marriage, but I was unable to figure out what that was. Emma simply seemed a little one dimensional in comparison to the other characters, which was a shame since the plot definitely revolved around her.
I felt that Blake read Atonement, saw a postmistress walking around one day, and tried to find a way to connect those into a novel. Some of the plot felt too forced (I don’t want to go into detail for those who haven’t read the book yet), as if she saw a few dead ends and tried to correct them without completely succeeding.
Overall, this book was OK. I did enjoy the history/war aspect and that it focused more on the people than the war itself.