review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
July 10, 2018
In general I am not one to reread books–with the exception of audiobook versions. In this case, I was prompted to pick Guernsey up a second time because I caught the trailer for the new film and it intrigued me (I loved Lily James in Pride & Prejudice & Zombies). When I read this book some 8 years ago, I remember coming away from it so blown away that I couldn’t even pen a credible review–and I have recommended it heavily since. It tends to be my go-to literary gift, and the book I guide readers to when asked for great historical reads.
One of the things I remember from my first experience is that the main author, Mary Ann Shaffer, sadly passed away before its publication. Her niece, also a writer, finished the book (there is an afterword in the new movie cover version that readers will appreciate), and I recently found that she is the author of my daughter’s favorite series, Ivy & Bean. The funny thing is, I didn’t remember the details of the book–other than the outcome, and so it was like reading it for the first time again. I’m not sure why this extraordinary story that simply amazed me was able to dull in my mind over the years, but I’m really glad I picked it up again at this particular moment. There’s a quote to that effect in the book–“Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.” There are many more glorious quotes here.
This is a book for book lovers. It’s based on a literary society that did not have access to many books on an island that was all the more isolated due to the German’s blockade. Some books were used for kindling when the wood ran out. Yet each member of the Society had a particular favorite they cherished and shared. As readers, we are introduced (or reminded) of a number of writers and what they meant to a character. I love that there’s a variety of different types of literature covered and how it was conveyed through the various personas–which is exactly why the letter/diary format worked so well with this book. What better way to get to know a character over a two-page spread than by reading a first-person point of view?
Of course, the love story in this book is phenomenal–but more than that, it’s also the story of the islanders’ camaraderie, of a child’s finding a home amidst a terrible time, and many different and endearing friendships. If you love books that make you laugh, give you that warm fuzzy feeling, and maybe make you shed a tear or two, you need to read this book!
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.