herald

Saturday 25 November 2017

Bookend: The Postmistress

Sarah Blake (Penguin €15.30)

Back in the Blitz?

Back in good old Blighty, where gritty girl reporter Frankie Bard is reporting on the nightly bombings for her compatriots in America.

War-torn romance, then?

There is that. Listening to Frankie's disturbing reports from the civilian front are young bride Emma and her new husband, Dr Fitch, who are shocked that the US is doing nothing.

And the postmistress?

Postmaster, actually -- in coastal Cape Cod -- that's rangy redhead Iris James's title. She's a woman who takes seriously her job of setting the world to order, keeping the post moving, the telegraph singing.

And the lost love?

Idealistic Dr Fitch, son of the town drunk, is out to save himself by saving everyone else. And, when he and Emma hear Frankie's radio report of how she brought her neighbour's child home to find his tenement bombed and his mother dead, the doctor can only do one thing.

Oh dear.

But postmaster Iris is also finding romance: slow and easy, with a man as driven as herself -- the local garage owner, who is convinced that the Germans are going to invade and he must keep watch.

And Frankie?

Frankie meets what might have been love in other circumstances, and takes off on trains across Europe with her portable recording machine to report and capture the voices of the fleeing millions.

A palpable hit?

It is good and I'd guess it will be a massive hit in America, where it will strike all kinds of chords. Less so, perhaps, in Europe, because most of the main characters are American, and there's a sense of suffering being observed, rather than endured.

Worth a read?

Definitely. Beautiful, with a tinge of strangeness. Full of odd moments, such as the European market square where Beethoven's Fifth becomes an audible Morse code version of the V for Victory sign chalked up by the Resistance on Europe's walls. The story is a page-turner. You want good for these people.

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