Authors: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
No. of Pages: 290
First Released: 2008
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books): “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.”
Comments and Critique: I feel like I am a bit late to the game in reading this one. I know it has been extremely popular in the literary world for a while now. Having finally finished it, I cannot help but wonder what took me so long to start reading it. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is just so charming. It demands that a reader fall in love with it, which I promptly did.
This is one novel where the epistolary form works very well as the narrative. All of the characters come alive in a way that I doubt would have happened had the story been told as a straight narrative. In fact, in my opinion, the letters helped humanize the characters, turning them into 3D versions rather than flat and stagnant. In addition, it is the reader’s love of each character, as well as the character’s often hilarious anecdotes, that prevents the entire story from being too heartbreaking.
Make no mistake, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is not all laughter and hilarity. Ms. Shaffer and Ms. Barrows hit some very tough historical topics that many people today still try to avoid. War of any description is not the most pleasant, and they pull no punches in their gut-wrenching stories of survival during World War II. It is a brutally honest view of living through an occupation as well as what it takes to survive. As shown through Eben and Dawsey, Esola, and Amelia, to survive a war is one thing, but it is quite another to survive the aftermath of the war. Ms. Shaffer and Ms. Barrows show the difference amazingly well.
On a side note, I strongly feel the art of letter writing needs to come back into vogue. It is so much more personal and personable than any electronic form of communication. It is such an effective plot device in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society because it shows the care and affection (or personal agenda) each writer has for the letter’s recipients.
The honest portrayal of a people struggling to get back to the life they once knew, as well as the individual characteristics of each person create an emotional balance for the reader. However, that does not mean that it is an emotionally flat novel. Rather, a reader will run the gamut from tears to laugh-out-loud moments to stomach-flipping anxiety to goofy smiling at the antics of certain characters. It is an emotional roller coaster of a novel that is worth every emotion for it teaches readers what it means to truly be alive, to enjoy life, and to celebrate the gifts we are given. Isn’t that the best lesson of all to learn?
This book counts for the What’s In a Name Reading Challenge as well as the Buy 1, Read 1 Book Challenge. This means that I did purchase this book with my own money.