The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Thursday, March 8, 2012


The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society
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.

In 1946, as London emerges from a war-torn history, Juliet, who wrote humorous articles during the war, is now looking for a new subject to write about for a new book. Unfortunately, an idea is nowhere near to be found. Out of the blue, she gets a letter from a Guernsey resident, thus beginning a long and warm association with him and other residents of Guernsey. She learns how they played a role in the war, how books became an important part of their lives, how the literary society came into being and why the potato peel pie was added to the name of their society. What starts off as an innocent exchange morphs into something bigger, something that eventually sends Juliet on a different life path.

Ever since this book was published in 2008, it had been on my radar. Last year, one of my friends read it and wanted to discuss that with me, but unfortunately, my copy was still playing house in my bookshelf. Eventually, I got to it last month, though I don't remember what made me pull it up. Did the news about the movie based on this book with the awesome Kate Winslet in the lead have anything to do with it? Probably. Was the size a motivation? Definitely. I was looking for a light and quick read to occupy my lunch break, so this book was it.

If I had to describe this book in one word, I'd say quirky. The Guernsey Literary was chock full of eccentric and wonderful characters that it immediately brought to mind the cozy Lumby Lines, which I read two years ago. At the same time, it wasn't a trivial read but instead had plenty of anecdotes from the suffering men and women of Guernsey. The war had definitely plonked down its nasty fist on this place. There were curfews, threats of a distant camp for violators, scarcity of food, and lack of support from England, who wanted to protect her borders. So the Germans came and set up shop, and ate all the food that this place produced leaving the citizens to dine on potatoes and turnips daily. Before the Germans came, most of the children were sent off to Britain to live under the care of strangers, because that was considered safer than the unknown impending danger of German occupation.

Despite the lurking darkness in the book, it's very hard to describe this book as gloomy. Most of the characters had a very optimistic demeanor that came through in their letters. (Oh, did I mention that this book is written in an epistolary style?) Juliet remained my favorite character of the lot, and her cheerfulness, innocence, funny bone and can-do attitude were very infectious. She strongly reminded me of Judy Abbott from Daddy-Long-Legs - another one of my favorite characters. Besides Juliet, Kit, a stubborn little girl, Elizabeth, her courageous mother who never makes an appearance in the book, and Amelia, Juliet's main Literary Society correspondent in Guernsey made an impressive bunch of characters.

This is only the second epistolary (story told through letters) book that I've enjoyed tremendously, the first being Dracula. I'm always uncertain about books like these, because it's challenging to develop the book's characters through letters. It's also hard to prevent repetition while maintaining the letters' authenticity. The Guernsey Literary managed to overcome both the issues and keep the book entertaining and fun. There were many points where I laughed out loud, and points when I went all respectfully-mournful and thoughtful. At the same time, the epistolary style made it conducive for reading at work - it was easy to put it down at the end of each letter. The book also didn't have a major plot driver until at least the midway point which, although would usually bother me, worked perfectly here because it went with the coziness and quirkiness of the book.

Some of my best passages in the book were all about reading. Any book lover will want to print out those quotes and paste them up on their work spaces or reading corners. There is one portion where Juliet dumps her boyfriend because he boxed all her books down to the basement and put up his shiny athletic trophies up for display ('You go, Juliet!'). Most of the characters spoke passionately about the books they read, much akin to what happens in book clubs (and blogs). Eventually, I enjoyed the book more than I expected to, and its vivid atmosphere has spawned a desire in me to visit Guernsey.


This book is from my personal library.


14 comments:

Marg Bates said...

I loved this book when I read it a couple of years ago, and I am really excited at the prospect of the movie. I don't read a lot of epistolary letters, but I did recently read another one which I thoroughly enjoyed as well. That was 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff.

Helen Murdoch said...

We read this book for one of my book groups a year or so ago and I couldn't get through it. I feel awful about that because it's the type of book I would normally like. I think it's one I need to give a second chance and I'm sure I'll feel differently the second time around

bermudaonion (Kathy) said...

I just loved this book and think the epistolary format was the perfect way to tell this story.

Harvee said...

I need to give the book a second chance too!

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

I've had this one on my radar for a while too. SO glad to hear you liked it. I look forward to these passages about reading that you mention.

Alex (Sleepless Reader) said...

I didn't know it's going to be adapted - very good news! I really REALLY liked the book and it surprised me to know that Guernsey was actually occupied (why aren't more movies and books about that?!). 

Have you read 84 Charing Cross road? It's tiny and non-fiction, but it's also my favorite epistolary book.

nomadreader said...

I'm definitely in the minority about this book; I don't get the appeal at all. I normally love epistolary novels, but this one didn't work. I'm glad you liked it, and I am curious to see the movie. Sometimes the movies based on books I didn't like are the best!

zibilee said...

This is a book that I have been wanting to read for a long time, but never got a chance to. It does sound rather cozy, and I also really like epistolary novels. I think I am going to have to see if I can find a copy of this one somewhere and get to it. Your review inspired me and has gotten me really excited to read this one. Excellent perspective today!

Ryan St.Onge said...

I read this book a year ago and recall liking is quite a bit but reading your review here, I honestly cannot remember a single detail from the novel. That's a bit disconcerting.

Shelleyrae @ Bookd Out said...

I read it some time ago, I liked it but didn't quite adore it. The setting was very interesting though

Anna said...

I think quirky is a good word for this book!  I really enjoyed it, especially how it touched on some heavy themes but felt lighthearted.

Samantha 1020 said...

This book has been on my TBR list for awhile now.  I'm pretty sure that I haven't read a bad review on it yet.  I'm definitely intrigued especially after reading your review!

Christina T said...

I had no idea they were making a movie! I hope it lives up to expectations. It will be interesting to see how the filmmakers adapt an epistolary novel. Like you, I read this on my lunch breaks at work. It is sad that the author died before the book was published.

c b said...

I wasn't sure if I'd like this book before I read it (not my usual genre) but I quite enjoyed it! I like that it's written in letters :) christa @ mental foodie