The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
I’ve at last read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It seems like the blogosphere has been abuzz with love for this book since it was released in July. I liked it too.
Through letters, we discover that Juliet Ashton is a writer touring about the British Isles promoting her collection of war-time newspaper columns, Izzy Bickerstaff Goes to War. Juliet receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a man in Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, who happened to have acquired her old copy of a book by Charles Lamb. Dawsey is a member of a literary society born of secret pig-dinner during the German occupation of Guernsey, and he wants more Lamb – Charles that is. And thus begins Juliet’s acquaintance with the members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. After numerous letters are exchanged with the eclectic bunch, she decides to go to Guernsey to research a book on the occupation.
I enjoyed this book. So much so that I consumed it in (or I should say it consumed me for) one evening. It’s charming and very reminiscent of 84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff. The characters are ever so lovable. Also, it was fascinating to learn about the German occupation of the Channel Islands. I, first of all, knew next to nothing about the Channel Islands (first British democracy?), and I definitely didn’t know that the Germans had occupied part of the British Empire during World War II. The book was obviously well-researched, and the authors managed to include a lot of background information without sounding like a textbook. And, there are numerous pontifications on the power of reading! The group used books to help cope with the realities of the occupation. Here are some of my favorite literary lines:
“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto 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.” (pp. 11-12)
“That evening when they came to my house to make their selections, those who had rarely read anything other than Scripture, seed catalogues, and The Pigman’s Gazette discovered a different kind of reading. . . . We read books, talked books, argued over books, and became dearer and dearer to one another. Other Islanders asked to join us, and our evenings together became bright, lively times – we could almost forget, now and then, the darkness outside.” (pp. 50-51)
“Later, I came to see that Mr. Dickens and Mr. Wordsworth were thinking of men like me when they wrote their words. But most of all, I believe that William Shakespeare was. . . . It seems to me the less he said, the more beauty he made. Do you know what sentence of his I admire the most? It is ‘The bright day is done, and we are for the dark.’ I wish I’d known those words on the day I watched those German troops land . . . .” (p. 63)
Isn’t it lovely? Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite LOVE this book. I liked it. The first half of the book, in particular, was engaging and pretty flawless. The second half, though, lagged a little. I think it was due in large part to the epistolary form. While engaging, the format can be dangerous because it forces the writer to do unwieldy things in order to get the action on the page. Also, it forces distance from some of the characters. For example, I felt too removed from Dawsey in the second half of the book because there were no letters from him after Juliet went to Guernsey. Maybe it was that distance that made the ending seem a little obvious and formulaic.
Despite some criticisms, I really liked this book. It made me laugh, and it made me tear up. It’s definitely worth the read.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows [rating:4]
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