It Happened at the Post Office

April 16, 2012

It occurred to me as I was watching the last disc of the second season of Lark Rise to Candleford (more about that later) that a number of enjoyable books and movies are set in and around post offices. For instance:

Rita Mae Brown’s series of cozy mysteries starring Mary Minor Haristeen (“Harry”) and her animal companions, Mrs. Murphy (a cat) and Tucker (a Welsh corgi). In the first of the series, Wish You Were HereCrozet, VA postmistress Harry sets out to solve the mystery of who killed a wealthy local contractor. Her pets, and all the other animals in the books, communicate with each other and help to solve the crimes.

My new obsession favorite show is the afore-mentioned Lark Rise to Candleford, a BBC adaptation of Flora Thompson’s semi-autobiographical novels about the countryside of northeast Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, England. These stories were first published in the 1940s as Lark Rise, Over to Candleford and Candleford Green. (They're now printed as a trilogy in one volume.)

According to Wikipedia, Thompson writes in the third person, as narrator “Laura Timmins” and this device allows her to comment on the action without imposing herself into the work. I feel real affection for the show’s characters—young Laura, postmistress Dorcas Lane, Laura’s poor-but-noble family, even the gossipy Pratt sisters. Once I finish with the four seasons of the TV program (two down, two to go), I’m going to hunt up the novels themselves.

The Postmistress is set in both Cape Cod and Europe. The story follows three women affected in various ways by the war. Publisher’s Weekly described it like this: “Weaving together the stories of three very different women loosely tied to each other, debut novelist Blake takes readers back and forth between small town America and war-torn Europe in 1940. Single, 40-year-old postmistress Iris James and young newlywed Emma Trask are both new arrivals to Franklin, Mass., on Cape Cod. While Iris and Emma go about their daily lives, they follow American reporter Frankie Bard on the radio as she delivers powerful and personal accounts from the London Blitz and elsewhere in Europe. While Trask waits for the return of her husband—a volunteer doctor stationed in England—James comes across a letter with valuable information that she chooses to hide.”

In the movie Dear God, a scam artist (Greg Kinnear) must perform community service in order to avoid a prison sentence. While working in the Dead Letter Office, “a mix-up with a letter addressed to God soon has Kinnear and his fellow employees sending gifts and goodwill to the needy,” according to the description on This sweet movie also stars Laurie Metcalf and Tim Conway.

While looking up descriptions of Dear God and The Postmistress, I happened upon the following two titles, which I haven’t read:

The Post-Office Girl, by Stefan Zweig. Described as “an unexpected and haunting foray into noir fiction by one the masters of the psychological novel,” The Post-Office Girl follows the ups and downs of post office girl Christine, who works in a provincial Austrian post office while also caring for her sick mother.

Then there’s Charles Bukowski’s post office, the story of Henry Chinaski, a postman, whose “three true, bitter pleasures are women, booze and racetrack betting.” I’m not sure this one sounds appealing to me, but it’s described as a “classic.”

Why, I wonder, does the Post Office figure in these stories? Perhaps because the PO is the center of life in many small towns. The postmistresses (or masters) know everyone, and everyone’s business, and the threads of life seem to weave through the PO and out to every corner of the town. What do you think? Where have some of your favorite books been set?

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  1. Interesting that so many of your favorite books or movies have the post office as a common thread. I'm going to check out Lark Rise to Candleford and The Postmistress.

  2. I know--it seems odd that the Post Office should play a role in several books and/or movies that I enjoy. Do check those two out--I think you'll like them.

  3. Well, now, I'm going to need to check these out and keep my eyes open. What a great theme that you have picked out, Kathy.

    Kathy M.

  4. Hope you like them, Kathy. I'm off to put season 3 of "Lark Rise" on hold at the library!