Sarah Blakley-Cartwright: Red Riding Hood (2011) The Book Based on the Movie

Valerie’s sister was beautiful, kind, and sweet. Now she is dead. Henri, the handsome son of the blacksmith, tries to console Valerie, but her wild heart beats fast for another: the outcast woodcutter, Peter, who offers Valerie another life far from home.
After her sister’s violent death, Valerie’s world begins to spiral out of control. For generations, the werewolf has been kept at bay with a monthly sacrifice. But no one is safe. When an expert wolf hunter arrives, the villagers learn that the creature lives among them – it could be anyone in town.
It soon becomes clear that Valerie is the only one who can hear the voice of creature. The Wolf says she must surrender herself before the Blood Moon wanes . . . or everyone she loves will die..

A few months ago I was browsing the Internet looking for the website of Fever Ray and that’s how I found the trailer of the movie Red Riding Hood for which Fever Ray has done the soundtrack.

There are hundreds of fairytale retellings out there. The range is incredible. From literary fiction to pulpy trash you find everything.

Ever since I have read Angela Carter’s Fairytale retellings and watched the movie The Company of Wolves I had a particular liking for the Little Red Riding Hood retellings. It has a few powerful elements that not all other fairy tales have, first of all the wolf and the red cloak. When it comes to the original fairytale it is far from being one of my favourites but what it inspires newer authors to do is often interesting.

For these reasons there was no way around the book Red Riding Hood as soon as I discovered it. The book is actually based on the movie, which makes the marketing strategy clear. This is even enhanced once you realize that what you hold in your hand isn’t the complete book. The last chapter is missing and can only be read online. This isn’t such a problem by now, as the movie has been released, but when I started reading, the chapter wasn’t accessible yet because the movie wasn’t playing.

The wolf in this version, like in some of the other retellings, is a werewolf. During the Blood Moon he lurks in the darkness and comes out of his hiding to kill the people of Daggorhorn. He hasn’t done so for a long time because he normally gets an offering but different circumstances lead to the killing of Valerie’s sister and from there to the death of other villagers. There is no stopping the wolf anymore.

The book works pretty much like a paranormal thriller. It is suspected that the werewolf must be from the village. Someone among the people they all know is transforming himself during the Blood Moon. Like in a proper thriller, there are many suspects. Red herrings abound and you really have to read until the final (online) chapter to find out who is the killer. Insofar it is quite gripping. I think it is possible to find out who it is but it is still entertaining.

What did not work for me are the characters. With the exception of the grandmother they are quite flat and interchangeable. The grandmother however is interesting, a witch-like, potion-cooking old woman who lives outside of society.

Another thing I didn’t like are the inconsistencies in the story. I had a feeling it was written very fast and there were really tacky moments too.

This probably sounds as if I had regretted to read this book but this is absolutely not the case. The descriptions are what I really liked. The little village, lost in the forest, the narrow medieval streets, the picturesque settings and most of all the house of the grandmother. The description of that house made the whole reading worthwhile. The grandmother lives in a tree house, outside of the fear-ridden village, high above everyone else. The interior of that house, the security it provides, is described very appealingly. I’m not going into details, those who want to read the novel should discover this for themselves.

All in all it was a fast read, a bit boring at times but still enjoyable and worthwhile thanks to the descriptions and settings. I shouldn’t forget to mention that there is also a romance part in the novel that did not work so well, or rather, the conflict keeping the lovers apart didn’t work.

I think you gathered that it is nowhere near as good as other retellings of the fairytale that’s why I decided to dedicate another post to a few of the really stunning examples.

Here is the Book’s Homepage with the final chapter.

I haven’t seen the movie yet but I might watch it since I like Fever Ray and Gary Oldman.

Red Riding Hood is my first contribution to the Once Upon a Time Challenge.

Literature and War Readalong March Wrap up: The Return of the Soldier

For one reason or the other I had a feeling I knew exactly what this novel was going to be about but I was very wrong. I think that with the exception of Danielle who read The Return of the Soldier for the second time we were all more or less surprised by the book.

When you expect to read a novel about a shell-shocked soldier you don’t necessarily expect to see Freudian theories at work and much less you expect this book to be about a choice, a decision that will change all the lives involved considerably.

What did strike me most in this readalong are the differences between the reviews that have been written which underlines what I wrote in my post where I said this book could be read in many different ways. While I concentrated on summarizing the plot and comparing the symbolical meaning of the three women, trying to link them to Freudian theories, Bookaroundthecorner and Danielle focused on a core theme of the book which is the choice. In her post Bookaroundthecorner points out the following:

The ending is what we call in French a “choix cornélien”, a “Cornelian choice”. The term comes from the French playwright Corneille (17th C). In his plays, the characters must always make a choice between passion and duty, between happiness and what is right. Here, Margaret and Jenny face a Cornelian choice: to cure or not to cure Chris. To cure him is to allow him to be a soldier and be sent to the trenches again, to lead him to a highly probable death.

Anna (Diary of an Eccentric) pointed out that what she liked the most about the book was the fact how it didn’t just give easy answers but encouraged you to think about the characters and their motivations. She also mentioned how life changing the death of Chris’ father was, a fact I must have overlooked completely. Anna also wrote that she felt we never really get to know Kitty and Margaret due to the first person narrative and that she would have liked to hear more about Chris, about what happened to him in the trenches. Although I did appreciate the book’s subtle use of war scenes through the means of Jenny’s nightmares, I expected it to be more from Chris’ point of view as well.

Danielle made an interesting comparison to Tess of the d’Urbervilles

Much like the letter that was shoved under the carpet rather than just under the door in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, letters that should have found their recipient but did not meant an entirely different ending for the two lovers until this unusual meeting.

Danielle also mentions that in the introduction West was quoted saying that a novel should have no empty sentences. This struck me as well, when I read it and I think I can agree with Danielle on the fact that this novel really is a fine example of this.

In all the posts and discussions, the treatment of the classes was mentioned. Apart from Kevin, no one really felt like understanding Kitty. I must admit, I felt an intense dislike and think the others shared this more or less. Of course, Kevin is right in pointing out that she is a product of her upbringing and the society she lives in.

What struck me as very interesting is that Kevin perceived the book as non-feminist. I think I disagree but understand very well how one could come to this conclusion. I believe she deliberately created a weak and vain character like Kitty to criticize the passivity of certain women, especially those who had everything, money, looks, status.

I found the treatment of the war very interesting although it was extremely toned down or rather, because it was so toned down and blended into the story. As a final word I’d like to quote Verlyn Klinkenborg.

It is certainly necessary to read The Return of the Soldier as a way of analyzing the experience of war from the civilian side. But it is also imperative to read this novel as West’s means of analyzing the experience of being female. At the age of twenty-four, West is holding up disparate versions of a woman’s experience and waiting to see which one crashes to the floor. (From the Introduction to The Modern Library Edition, p.xx )

I don’t know if you have noticed the different book covers. I think this is the one I like the most.

Once Upon A Time Challenge

No matter what I said about challenges at the beginning of the year, forget it. Of course I’m joining the Once Upon A Time Challenge. I loved last year’s R.I.P. hosted by Carl and this is the lighter springtime side to R.I.P’s autumnal darkness. And I love fairy tales, folklore, fantasy and mythology.

There are different levels in the Once Upon A Time Challenge, please go there and find out all about it.

I decided to sign up for the Journey which leaves everything open from reading only one book to as many as I want, fiction and nonfiction.

I’m just about to finish a few fairy tale retellings, so this is timely in any case. I have a few ideas for other books I might read but I’m not sure it’s wise to tell it yet as I have seen in the last few weeks a few projects being left behind due to time constraints. The only book I am sure to review is Red Riding Hood and a few other retellings of the Little Red Riding Hood fairytale.

Rebecca West: The Return of the Soldier (1918) Literature and War Readalong March

The soldier returns from the front to the three women who love him. His wife, Kitty, with her cold, moonlight beauty, and his devoted cousin Jenny wait in their exquisite home on the crest of the Harrow-weald. Margaret Allington, his first and long-forgotten love, is nearby in the dreary suburb of Wealdstone. But the soldier is shell-shocked and can only remember the Margaret he loved fifteen years before, when he was a young man and she an inn-keeper’s daughter. His cousin he remembers only as a childhood playmate; his wife he remembers not at all. The women have a choice – to leave him where he wishes to be, or to ‘cure’ him. It is Margaret who reveals a love so great that she can make the final sacrifice.

The Return of the Soldier is unusual because it has been written by a woman and during the war. But it is also unusual in its treatment of the war. Although a tale that takes place on the home-front, the horrors of the war in the trenches shine through constantly.

The novel is a first person narrative,  told by Jenny, Chris’s cousin. It opens on a domestic scene showing Kitty, Chris’ wife and Jenny together in the nursery. We learn immediately that the child who lived there is dead and we also learn a lot about the very different characters of these two women. Kitty is not easily alarmed even though they haven’t heard from Chris for weeks. The very first paragraph shows that she treats the war lightly, does maybe not take it very seriously at all, rather like some adventure, while Jenny is aware of the dangers.

“Ah, don’t begin to fuss!” wailed Kitty. “If a woman began to worry in these days because her husband hadn’t written to her for a fortnight—! Besides, if he’d been anywhere interesting, anywhere where the fighting was really hot, he’d have found some way of telling me instead f just leaving it as “Somewhere in France. He’ll be alright.”

Jenny will tell us later what a very shallow woman Kitty is. Appearances is all that is important to her.

Now, why did Kitty, who was the falsest thing on earth, who was in tune with every kind of falsity, by merely suffering somehow remind us pf reality?

The initial scene is almost idyllic as the house and its surroundings are so lovely and Jenny cannot help but think of how much Chris must miss his life there. Rebecca West is excellent when she describes the surroundings. She chooses words like a painter who tries to get every little shade of what he paints right. Her writing is nuanced and poetical.

The house lies on the crest of Harrowweald, and from its windows the eye drops to miles of emerald pastureland lying wet and brilliant under a westward line of sleek hills blue with distance and distant woods, while nearer it ranges the suave decorum of the lawn and the Lebanon cedar whose branches are like darkness made palpable, and the minatory gauntness of the topmost pines in the wood that breaks downward, its bare boughs a close texture of browns and purples, from the pond on the hill’s edge.

Of the two women, Jenny is the one that brings the war into the novel through her worrying. It is deeply rooted in her consciousness as well as in her subconscious. Her feelings for her cousin are so intense, the identification is total at times and she seems to be the one experiencing the battlefield. Through Jenny we get a clear picture of how much was known on the home-front. In the movie theaters they were shown black and white footage of the front line. To be like Kitty, unaware of the real dangers, you had to be really determined to keep them away from you.

Of late I had had had dreams about him. By night I saw Chris running across the brown rottenness of No Man’s Land, starting back here because he rod upon a hand, not even looking there because of the awfulness of an unburied head, and not till my dream was packed full of horror did I see him pitch forward on his knees as he reached safety—it was that. For on the war-films I have seen men slip down as softly from the trench parapet, and none but the grimmer philosopher would say that they reached safety by their fall.

Into the initial idyll breaks a shabby and elderly looking woman. She is badly dressed and seems of the lowest social class. Both women feel revolted and when they hear why she has come they are quite shocked. Margaret has come to inform them that Chris has been is in a hospital in France and suffers from severe shell-shock. He is amnesic and has eradicated the last 15 years of his memory, believing to still have a relationship with Margaret. The reactions of the two women towards this member of the lower classes is quite disturbing. They almost react as if she was contaminating the house.

Soon after this conversation, Chris is brought back and has indeed lost every memory of his wife and barely recognizes his cousin who is now fifteen years older.

In what follows we see how each of the three women reacts so differently, how each wishes and longs for other things. We learn also about the relationship Chris had with Margaret and why he broke it off and what happened to her after he left her. Despite all this there is no sign of his recovering his memory and finally a doctor is called. At first he isn’t successful but he points out that there may have been a reason why Chris repressed the memory of his marriage. It is only after Margaret suggests to show Chris something that will trigger a strong emotion – in this case things that belonged to the dead child – that he will be able to regain his memory. I the moments before he is shown the baby’s things Jenny is suddenly painfully aware of what a recovery truly means. Should he recover, he will have to go back to the front. In sharp contrast to this, Kitty doesn’t care. She wants her husband to recognize her again, that’s all she cares about. Once the recovery has happened, it’s Jenny again who states clearly what will be.

He walked not loose limbed like a boy, as he had done that very afternoon, but with the soldier’s thread upon the heel. It recalled to me that, bad as we were, we were yet not the worst circumstance of his return. When he dad lifted the yoke of our embraces from his shoulders he would go back to that flooded trench in Flanders under that sky more full of flying death than clouds, to that No Man’s Land where bullets fall like rain on the rotting faces of the dead.

I found it very interesting that The Return of the Soldier can be read in many different ways. Considering the theme of the readalong, I focused on the way she treated WWI but that is not the only topic in this novel. One could also explore the psychological theories or the sociological dimension.

I think The Return of the Soldier is an incredibly subtle and artful novel. The war and it’s horrors are like threads that are woven into the fabric of the story. As a journalist Rebecca West was interested and did report on the war but she was also very interested in Freud’s theories, some of which she has applied in the novel. I think to make of Chris a shell-shocked soldier suffering from amnesia which was not realistic, shows us that she wanted this to be taken symbolically. The psychologist Glen Clifford kindly and eloquently pointed out in a comment on my introductory post that PTSD is characterized by the incapability to forget and amnesia is a very unlikely occurrence.

The three women all symbolize something else and represent different levels of consciousness. Kitty, the wife he has forgotten is the symbol of all the forces that contribute and maintain the class system and the war. She is a typical representative of the British upper class, of those who decide to send  thousands of young men to a certain death. Those who don’t care what is going on “over there”. She symbolizes the unconscious. Margaret on the other hand stands for the working classes, simplicity, those who have to endure what others force upon them. That seems to be pretty much how Chris feels as well. She may be read as the subconscious. Jenny is by far the most intriguing. She moves back and forth between the different levels of consciousness with a capability of seeing things clearly. She is his cousin but thinks and feels rather like a lover. She seems the most authentic, the most emotional, the one who feels what either Kitty or Chris should feel, namely the horror and despair caused by this horrible war and the sadness about the loss of the little boy. It may very well be that the death of the child drove the spouses apart.

I would like to say thanks to Ann Norton from the International Rebecca West Society, for pointing me towards a new critical edition by Bernard Schweizer and Charles Thorne. It contains invaluable material and background information to the book. If you want to have a look at the content here’s the link to the broadview press.

Ann Norton wrote the introduction to the Barnes and Noble Library of Essential Reading Edition.

I am really curious to read what others have to say about this complex novel, be it in a review or in comments.

Other reviews:

Anna (Diary of an Eccentric)


Danielle (A Work in Progress)


The Return of the Soldier was the third book in the Literature and War Readalong. The next one will be Carol Ann Lee’s The Winter of the World. Discussion starts on Friday April 29, 2011 .

Halldór Laxness: The Fish Can Sing aka Brekkukotsannáll (1957) An Icelandic Coming-of-Age Tale

Abandoned as a baby, Alfgrimur is content to spend his days as a fisherman living in the turf cottage outside Reykjavik with the elderly couple he calls grandmother and grandfather. There he shares the mid-loft with a motley bunch of eccentrics and philosophers who find refuge in the simple respect for their fellow men that is the ethos at Brekkukot. But the narrow horizons of  Alfgrímur’s idyllic childhood are challenged when he starts school and meets Iceland’s most famous singer, the mysterious Gardar Holm. Gardar encourages him to aim for the “one true note”, but how can he attain it without leaving behind the world that he loves?

Have you ever read a book and caught yourself smiling almost all the time? The Fish Can Sing is so charming I couldn’t help doing it. It’s also quite funny at times and certainly very intriguing. I’m afraid I can’t really put into words how different it is. As a matter of fact, Halldór Laxness’ book is so unusual and special that I have to invent a new genre for it. This is officially the first time that I have read something that I would call mythical realism. It is very realistic but at the same time it is full of exaggerations like we find them in myths. This is due to some extent to the narrator, Alfgrimur, who takes everything he hears literally. Very probably it also has its roots in Icelandic storytelling.

I really owe thanks to Professor Batty of Flippism is the Key. If it hadn’t been for him I wouldn’t have embarked on my Halldór Laxness journey starting with The Fish Can Sing. The late Icelandic Noble Laureate has written some 60 books. Some haven’t been translated into English but almost all of them are available in German. As he told me, The Fish Can Sing is by far more accessible than any of his other books and certainly much easier than Under the Glacier which I had planned on reading first. I went through a bit of a Susan Sontag phase two years ago and stumbled upon her essay on Under the Glacier. Many of the Noble Laureates aren’t the most easy reads and I can imagine how challenging some of Laxness’ other books must be as The Fish Can Sing, as charming and enchanting as it is, isn’t very easy either.

To give you an impression of how different it is, let me just quote the first sentence:

A wise man once said that next to losing its mother, there is nothing more healthy for a child than to lose the father.

This sets the tone nicely. This novel is full of unusual statements and observations. If you want to walk the trodden path when reading a book, chose another one. This is a wild landscape you are entering. A landscape of harsh beauty that – as I can only assume – must mirror the beauty of Iceland itself.

The Fish Can Sing is the story of little Alfgrimur whose mother gave birth just before emigrating to the US and left the baby behind at Brekkukot where he is adopted by the man and the woman he will call grandparents. His mother stayed, like so many others, for some time at the turf-cottage of Björn of Brekkukot. What a world this Brekkukot is. Dominated by the grandfather whose love for people, authenticity and truthfulness are the guiding light towards which so many are directed. The grandfather is the most important person in Alfgrimur’s life. He is the personification of absolute love and security.

But whether I was playing in the vegetable garden, or out on the paving, or down by the path, my grandfather was always somewhere at hand, silent and omniscient.There was always some door standing wide open or ajar, the the door of the cottage or the fish-shed or the net-hut or the byre, and he would be inside there, pottering away.

His constant silent presence was in every cranny and corner of Brekkukot – it was like lying snugly at anchor, one’s soul could find in him whatever security it sought. To this very day I still have the feeling from time to time that a door is standing ajar somewhere to one side of or behind me, or even right in front of me, and that my grandfather is inside there pottering away.

The grandfather is a real original. He follows his own rules and is not impressed by status or education. Alfgrimur feels that he is profoundly loved. The grandfather reminded me in some ways of Atticus Finch. Another culture, another society but the same aim for truthfulness and tolerance. Only a touch more eccentric. This novel is full of eccentric characters and unusual descriptions like those of the turf-cottage. The grandfather and his hospitality are so famous that people come from all over Iceland to sleep at the cottage. Some stay there always, some are on their way to the States, some are ill and look for a cure, others come to die there.

It would drive one mad to try to tell about all the visitors who ever came to Brekukkot, and indeed such a book would burst all the printing-presses in Iceland.

A dilapidated, creaking stair with seven steps connected the passage with the mid-loft in our house. It was here that  and my fellow-residents lived. This mid-loft was the centre-space of the upper storey, partitioned off from the rooms on either side; we were in effect a sort of vestibule for those who lived in the east and west ends of the loft as well as for anyone who went up  or down the stair. When my grandfather did not give up his bed to a visitor, he slept in the part of the loft that faced south, but which was actually called the west end; otherwise he would lie on a pile of nets out in the store-shed, and would think nothing of it. Often our living-room was full, and people were tightly packed in at both ends of the loft; there were sleepers in the passage and sleepers in the doorway, and sometimes during the autumn trips, when we had the largest crowds, they would bed themselves down i the store-shed and the hayloft as well.

The book is told in a sequence of short chapters that could almost be read independently like short stories but it is still a novel. Some of the characters and stories that are told are quite funny.

It is a small and protected world in which Alfgrimur grows up and the outside world and foreign countries are only brought to his world through the figure of the somewhat mysterious Gardar Holm, a world-famous Icelandic singer who mostly lives abroad. There is a special connection between Alfgrimur and the singer and it is through him that he discovers his own voice and will choose to follow the same path.

The first real pain in Alfgrimur’s life comes from the need to go to school. To leave the safe haven of Brekkukot is terrible for him. All he had been deaming of was staying there forever and becoming a fisherman. This can of course not be and the end part of the novel is therefore almost melancholic.

All in all this was a great discovery. I really liked it a lot and think Laxness has a wonderful imagination. Professor Batty has dedicated his blog almost entirely to Iceland. If you are interested in Halldór Laxness or other Icelandic authors, also crime authors, you will find a lot of information and reviews there. He has reviewed many of Laxness’ novels and done several posts on the translations that are available.

Here is his Top Ten Laxness in translation review.

Yves Angelo’s Le Colonel Chabert (1994)

I am really glad I have watched this movie. I liked every minute of it. It’s beautifully filmed, the interiors are wonderful, the actors are extremely good.

One of the problems I usually have when a movie is based on a book is that so much I liked has been left out. Le Colonel Chabert is an example of the opposite. Where the book gives us just a few details, the movie elaborates them. The character portraits are much more interesting; the Countess Ferraud and the lawyer Derville, have more depth and complexity and also the Count Ferraud, who is more or less just a distant presence in the book, becomes a real person.

I will not summarize the plot, I have already done this in the review of the novel, I will rather point out a few differences and how the film director managed to put into pictures what has before been put into words.

The movie starts with a view of the battlefield. This isn’t easy to watch. I mentioned somewhere else the problems I had with the movie Waterloo because of the dead horses. The amount of wasted horses is heartbreaking. The scene is very graphic; bodies of men and horses are piled up high and disposed of, just like garbage. There are three instances like this in the movie. They are falshbacks and represent what the Colonel Chabert remembers from the battle of Eylau where he was so severely wounded that he was reported dead.

While the book is rightly called Le Colonel Chabert, the movie could also have been called The Countess Ferraud. There is much more emphasis on her and the role and fate of women in the French society in the 19th century. She is not only greedy and ambitious like the Countess in the novel but she is also a woman who fights for her survival in the society. The movie shows that they are just pawns in a game and that “love” mostly equals lust and where that ends, “love” stops. A woman must constantly fear to be replaced by another one that is either more attractive or more likely to bring a man the social status or wealth he craves or the son he needs. I am not a fan of Fanny Ardant but she is excellent in this movie.

Derville’s role is also much more substantial. I like the way he speaks about his profession and how it made him unvover the ugliest in human society. The avarice, the greed, the fighting over money. Derville is truly a good person. He has seen so many vile acts that it seems to have transformed him into a better human being. There is not much to gain for him, in helping the Colonel, yet he does it anyway. Fabrice Luchini plays this incredibly well. The scene in which he visits the Colonel in his filthy abode is priceless.

Le Colonel Chabert is beautifully filmed. The decor, interiors and costumes are really worth watching. I particularly liked how the lawyer’s chambers were shown and the filthy backyard in which the Colonel lives.

Gerard Depardieu will always be one of my favourite actors no matter how often he parodies himself. I love his voice and he is often great. He is great in period drama but he excels in modern movies. The final scene of  Le Colonel Chabert shows him at his very best. This alone would have made this movie worth watching for me. On the other hand I have to point out that whoever is familiar with French cinema of the 80s and 90s knows that there is one thing to deplore. Whenever there was a big budget movie, it was more than likely he was casted. This makes it occasionally difficult to see the character and not the actor and his former roles. When I saw Chabert I also saw Rodin, the Count of Monte Christo, Cyrano de Bergerac, Vidocq, Vatel, Valjean, Columbus, Maheu, Jean de Florette and Balzac.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a trailer. I attached a few film stills instead.

Sarah Blake: The Postmistress (2010)

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?

I wanted to like The Postmistress and for 200 pages I really did. It has a cinematic quality to it, the descriptions are so perfect, you think you are watching a movie. A movie like Pearl Harbor, not The Draughtsman’s Contract, that’s for sure, but still, it’s an achievement. Also the story is really interesting for far more than two thirds of the book and then it sadly collapses. What starts out as an entertaining and very well-researched read becomes slightly insipid.

The Postmistress interweaves the lives of three very different American women. Frankie Bard, a war reporter, Emma Fitch, the young wife of a doctor and Iris James, the postmaster (she insists on calling herself “postmaster” and I never really got the title).

The story that is told in the book takes place in 1941. During the first two thirds of the book, Frankie is in war-torn Europe, reporting live on the radio, during the Blitz and later from different cities in France. Emma and Iris live both, in the fictional small town Franklin in Massachusetts and hear Frankie’s broadcasts that brings the war into their living rooms. They feel Frankie’s engagement, they live the tragedy with her. They are so far away if it wasn’t for Frankie the war would seem almost unreal.  Apart from Harry Vale, Iris’ fiancé, no one in Franklin, Massachusetts thinks that America will ever go to war, even though the draft has started.

The plot starts to get silly when Emma’s husband decides to go and help in London. He seeks atonement for a “medical accident” for which he feels responsible.

The second third of the book shows Frankie travelling with various trains from Germany to Portugal to interview refugees on the trains. She collects the stories on disks and those voices will later be listened to – thanks to a huge story-twist – in Franklin.

The central story is the one part of the book that I didn’t like and this is unlucky because it ties the three parts together. The idea was to tell the story of a letter that is not delivered because the postmistress decides to hold it back.

Something else that didn’t quite work for me is due to the handling of the characters. Although all three women get their equal share at the beginning, it becomes ultimately Frankie’s story. The other two seem to be mere vehicles to make the plot work.

Sarah Blake writes in her after-word that Frankie couldn’t have had access to a portable disk recorder at that time. What she uses came into usage in 1944 and enabled live-recording from the battlefields.

I took liberty with the date because World War II was the first war that was brought into people’s living rooms by radio, and I wanted to highlight the power of the voice to convey the untellable, the refugees speaking into an air into which they will vanish.

Sarah Blake studied a lot of books on female war reporters, Martha Gellhorn and many other books on WWII. The themes are decidedly interesting and it is no wonder the book has A Reader’s Guide and Discussion Questions. An ideal choice for a book club I presume. Occasionally I wonder if these Reader Guides are not meant to justify the book and ultimately to sell it. It strikes me that I see this more in more in books, even in so-called American literary fiction.

The history of female war reporters and the evolution of reporting is interesting. I think the book also captures very well how far away the war seemed to the Americans. It looks at the way people go on about their lives while in another part of the world people go through terrible things. This seemed very timely and I was reminded of the situation in Japan. We are here and safe while people in another country fight for their survival. How do we go on living as if nothing was happening?

If you are still curious, here is The book’s homepage where you can read the first chapter.