Book Review #8: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Number of pages: 274
Date Published: July 29, 2008
Publisher: The Dial Press
“ I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.”January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….
As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.
Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.
Hooray for my first 5-stars! This is another epistolary novel but one which I absolutely adored.
The story of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society happened in 1946, while survivors are in the process of forgetting the events of the second world war. Juliet Ashton, a writer, is having trouble coming up with a subject for her new work.
While in thought, she receives a letter from a stranger, Dawsey, a man who lives in an island called Guernsey. He requests assistance from Juliet in order to procure Charles Lamb’s books. This correspondence with Dawsey begins Juliet’s connection with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – a society where Dawsey is a member of, a community unexpectedly founded during the second world war with the original intention of protecting its members but which later on lived up to its name until the war ended.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is written entirely in the form of letters. Despite having no chapters (the novel is divided only into two parts), the story is wonderfully illustrated. It contains sufficient details of past and present episodes accompanied by whimsical characters and vivid descriptions of places.
Aside from the unconventional writing style, this book is also one of my favorite historical novels. I have truly fallen in love with books such as The Storyteller and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil but my liking for Guernsey arises from a slightly different reason. Well primarily, it’s because I noticed that the storytelling of Guernsey felt more composed and was easier to take in than that of other historical novels.
I am fascinated in stories about actual events and it delights me that this book was able to narrate these events in a manner that is utterly engaging. The characters wrote about their experiences to Juliet, most of which were told in a less sultry way and are thus refreshing to read about.
They told of events during the war, both gruesome and unforeseen – being worked to the bone, being thrown to prison, getting surrounded by guard dogs, getting killed and abused, impromptu reasoning with the soldiers, creative escapes, and even love amidst everything else.
And if you find yourself captivated with stories about the war, wait until this book tells you about Guernsey. I’ve always had a soft spot for novels about countries or islands or any other interesting place for that matter and this book did not disappoint. I found myself transported to the world of the members of the society, the beautiful island of Guernsey. I longed for the people who lived in Guernsey, for those who treasured the simplest of things, for their lifestyle and their pure love for books (Well, as I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m quite fond of books about books so this is not entirely surprising).
A lot of characters were introduced. Their names were a little confusing to me so I had to take note of the sender and receiver of each letter. All of them had uncanny personalities and were a delight to read about, even those who were up to mischief. My favorite character is Sidney. Why if you may ask? He made me admire him to the point of adoration and then many letters later, he broke my heart but some more letters were sent and I fell in love with him all over again.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a story with a well-balanced narration of past and present events. The unique storytelling draws you in as the events take you from one period to another. The descriptiveness of it all obliges you to take the plane to England, or better yet, to Guernsey just so you could see it all for yourself.
This is a wonderful, wonderful book, the kind that you should read while at peace, while reading tea or basking in the wonders of nature. There’s not much to think about as you read this story. Trust me, read a page and wait until the book takes you to another destination. Read it. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Favorite quotes from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society:
I don’t want to be married just to be married. I can’t think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can’t talk to, or worse, someone I can’t be silent with.
That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.
Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books.
Men are more interesting in books than they are in real life.
I love seeing the bookshops and meeting the booksellers– booksellers really are a special breed. No one in their right mind would take up clerking in a bookstore for the salary, and no one in his right mind would want to own one– the margin of profit is too small. So, it has to be a love of readers and reading that makes them do it– along with first dibs on the new books.
I sometimes think I prefer suitors in books rather than right in front of me. How awful, backward, cowardly, and mentally warped that will be if it turns out to be true.