Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, The
Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows
January 1946: writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And so begins a remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German occupation, and of a society as extraordinary as its name.
Reviewed: 2017-08-29Book Description #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER "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. From the Hardcover edition. Editorial Reviews From Publishers Weekly The letters comprising this small charming novel begin in 1946, when single, 30-something author Juliet Ashton (nom de plume Izzy Bickerstaff) writes to her publisher to say she is tired of covering the sunny side of war and its aftermath. When Guernsey farmer Dawsey Adams finds Juliet's name in a used book and invites articulate--and not-so-articulate--neighbors to write Juliet with their stories, the book's epistolary circle widens, putting Juliet back in the path of war stories. The occasionally contrived letters jump from incident to incident--including the formation of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society while Guernsey was under German occupation--and person to person in a manner that feels disjointed. But Juliet's quips are so clever, the Guernsey inhabitants so enchanting and the small acts of heroism so vivid and moving that one forgives the authors (Shaffer died earlier this year) for not being able to settle on a single person or plot. Juliet finds in the letters not just inspiration for her next work, but also for her life--as will readers. (Aug.) Copyright ® Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. From Bookmarks Magazine "Traditional without seeming stale, and romantic without being naïve" (San Francisco Chronicle), this epistolary novel, based on Mary Ann Shaffer's painstaking, lifelong research, is a homage to booklovers and a nostalgic portrayal of an era. As her quirky, loveable characters cite the works of Shakespeare, Austen, and the Brontës, Shaffer subtly weaves those writers' themes into her own narrative. However, it is the tragic stories of life under Nazi occupation that animate the novel and give it its urgency; furthermore, the novel explores the darker side of human nature without becoming maudlin. The Rocky Mountain News criticized the novel's lighthearted tone and characterizations, but most critics agreed that, with its humor and optimism, Guernsey "affirms the power of books to nourish people during hard times" (Washington Post). Copyright 2008 Bookmarks Publishing LLC --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Reviewed: 2016-06-24When I started this book, honestly, I had no idea what to expect. I know that lots of people have loved Guernsey, and a friend of mine raved about it, but I was dubious. I mean... the title just seemed silly to me. But now having read the book, the title makes perfect sense. Not only what it means, but also everything that it represents, and I can't really imagine the book having a different title now.
In addition to being dubious about the title, I've also been really impatient with books lately. They have to get to the good stuff quickly, or I find something shinier. Guernsey took a bit of getting used to - the format, being epistolary didn't help that much. The first letter, from someone named Juliet to someone named Sidney about someone named Susan Scott and something called English Foibles and the 'Society to Protest Against the Glorification of the English Bunny'.
Right then. I read a couple more letters, and thought, "Maybe later," and tried a couple other books. (Nook ownership encourages book polygamy, I swear it.) But I kept thinking about the letters, and who the people writing them were, and so I came back, and as soon as Dawsey wrote his first letter, I was hooked. I still think that the beginning is a little slow, but it did the job.
Overall, I thought that the epistolary style was great. It allows the characters to be themselves, for the reader to get to know them through their own thoughts, rather than an intermediary (a narrator) telling us about them. At times I thought that things were a little one sided, the letters providing responses to things that the reader wasn't privy to, so the reader would need to fill in the blanks, but I didn't mind this so much overall. It's better to pick a style and commit to it, in my opinion, than to try to be all things to all readers.
Another benefit of this style is that it's far more personal - written by a real person to be read by another real person. They aren't literature, they are bits of someone's life and thoughts and experiences. And that's exactly what they felt like.
I loved how they kind of skittered around the Occupation, while still showing exactly what it had been like. These people weren't whiners. They took the Occupation as another bump in the road and lived their lives around it. Their letters are full of the ways that their lives changed with the coming of the Nazis to Guernsey, but they were just telling someone who hadn't been there what it was like, not fishing for sympathy. That's a fine line, but I think this book walked it, and did it beautifully.
All that being said, I can't give this book 5 stars, although I wish I could. I didn't feel that the book was finished when it ended, and I feel a little bad for saying this, but that the book lost a bit of focus toward the end. Granted, the reader can fill in the blanks, but I was truly hoping for a more decisive non-romantic resolution. It's all well and good for the romance to have been wrapped up - but for me that was a side detail. That's not why I felt that we were in Guernsey. I wanted to see publication of the work-in-progress. I wanted to see the GL&PPPS read it, and commiserate over it, and begin to heal the griefs of their losses through it. Especially this last for Kit.
As it was, it was a beautiful book. Very quotable and moving and definitely worth reading. But I feel like the end could have come full circle and been much stronger.
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