The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Dial Press, May 2009
About the Book
“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.
Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is one of those rare, rare books where you could almost open it up to any page and find something to smile about. And that, of course, is something to be treasured and applauded because it makes for a completely satisfying read from start to finish. This novel is told completely through letters. Readers get to know characters in their own words, for better or worse.
The heroine of the novel is a young author named Juliet Ashton. During the war, she wrote a regular column under the name of Izzy Bickerstaff. Now that the war is over (finally!), her columns have been published together in book form. She’s happy.The war is over. Her book is being received positively. Sure, she feels the need to move on, to write a book under her own name, a very different book. And true, she’s a bit in doubt as to what that next book will be and if that book will live up to the success of the first one, but . . .
So most of her letters are to her publisher, Sidney, or to her best friend, Sophie. But one letter she receives changes her life. And it wasn’t an obvious change-of-life letter. It was a friendly, down-to-earth letter from a complete stranger. He’d read her book. No, not the book she’d written. But a book that had been in her library, a book with her name and address in it. It was a book by Charles Lamb. This used book, found and read during the war, deeply affected him. He connected with Charles Lamb, and he thought she might have book recommendations and such.
So Juliet discovers almost by accident several things. First, that Guernsey was occupied during the war. If she’d known this during the war, it had slipped her mind because it didn’t really impact her—not because she was selfish, but just because when your own world is a big tumbling-down uncertain mess, you don’t really think of the island of Guernsey in the big-scheme-of-things. Second, that a group had come together through desperation and lust (for a pig dinner!) to form the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Though for the record, the Potato Peel Pie part came later. Of course, she has to know more, and she wants all the details. She needs more. She wants to hear more from men and women in this “literary society.” She wants their stories—about books and reading, about the Nazi occupation, about the war, about their hardships such as hunger, separation from children, and so on, and about their joys and sorrows. Of course, all this will take time and trust.
And that is what makes this story so great, in my opinion. I loved the getting-to-know experience. I loved the relationship building. I loved seeing friendships form. I especially loved the bond that formed between Juliet and Kit, a war orphan. There were so many giddy-making moments in this book!
I definitely recommend this one! It is so wonderful, so charming, so perfect!
Becky’s Book Reviews