The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a book I’ve seen around often. It frequented TBR lists of my friends, and appeared frequently on Top Reads lists, or Most Influential Books lists, but I had never considered picking it up. Why? Who knows. I used to think it was the title– it just confused me. And the title/cover combination did nothing to draw me. Retrospectively speaking, I think it’s the fact that this book is so unique it’s hard to clearly describe.
“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books.” – Isola Pribby
And it definitely took a few letters for me to get the hang of it. I am the sort of reader who “reads” the chapter titles but never absorbs them (I learned early on that this often leads to spoilers). However, when reading an epistolary book, one must pay attention who is writing to whom. Letters are not always to and from the same people. Getting used to that was an adjustment. Once I adjusted, however, my reading was unstoppable.
It’s 1946 and London-based author Juliet Ashton doesn’t know what to write next. During the war, she wrote a witty editorial-style column. Her writings were collected and published and her book tour is ending. But what now? The world is filled with dreary sadness as humanity returns to life as they once knew it. Juliet wants to escape the war but doesn’t know what on earth to write about.
Enter Dawsey Adams. A native of Guernsey, Dawsey somehow acquired a book by Charles Lamb which once belonged to Juliet. Since her name and address are printed in the book, and access to literature on the island of Guernsey is limited, he requests that she send any additional books by Charles Lamb. Or perhaps a biography? He will reimburse her, of course.
And thus begins a life-changing adventure for Juliet. Through her correspondence with Dawsey, she learns that he is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society– a society which came into being only due to some quick thinking when he and his friends were out after curfew when Guernsey was occupied by the Germans. Intrigued by the society name alone, Juliet’s correspondence eventually expands to include other members of the society. They tell her their stories of the war, and she falls in love with them all.
Guernsey was the only part of British soil occupied by Germany in World War II. The members of the GL&PPP society are all quirky and unique, sharing their stories of both the uplifting and terrifying moments of the occupation readily. It’s obvious some adventures have been had. Everyone has experienced love and loss in some harsh way throughout the occupation. They share stories not only about their lives but the lives of the citizens of the island and the German occupants. It’s quickly easy to see the war was incredibly harsh on everyone, no matter their allegiance.
“The old adage – humor is the best way to make the unbearable bearable – may be true.” – Juliet Ashton
Relationships between characters are a weakness of mine. I love exploring those relationships and seeing them develop and grow. (This is one reason why I absolutely adore the works of Rainbow Rowell— she does incredible work with relationships!) The relationships displayed here are no exception. Throughout the letters, we better understand the relationships each character has with the others. We get to hear people talk about the same events from different perspectives, or learn about reactions after the fact. Some of my favorite characters were even the ones who wrote the fewest letters– hearing how others viewed and understood them was just brilliant.
“…but I much prefer whining to counting my blessings.” – Juliet Ashton
However, the best part of the book for me was Juliet’s wit. She is a remarkable writer who has no fear in sharing the best and worst parts about herself with whomever will pay attention. I like to highlight my favorite quotes throughout a book, and well, I’ll just say that I highlighted more of Juliet’s writing than quotes from my last 5 books combined. Her wit kept me smiling.