The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

January 8, 2016
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society Book Cover The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society
Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Historical Fiction
The Dial Press
July 29th, 2008
eBook
274
Library

“ 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.

(via Goodreads)

 

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

This was the first epistolary novel I have read, strangely.Epistolary definition

 

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.

pile of lettersEnter 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 IslandGuernsey 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.

Plus… Juliet might have just given me my new life motto:Guzzle champagne

I recommend this novel wholeheartedly to anyone interested in World War II, England after the war, or witty letter writing.4 stars

5 Comments

  • Jane @ Greenish Bookshelf August 29, 2017 at 5:43 pm

    Guernsey is one of my favorite all time novels! Such a neat genre and a beautiful story about sacrifice, love, and friendship. I love relationships between characters too! They are just gorgeous in this novel. I love how Juliet develops a relationship with Elizabeth despite the fact that she never meets her. And I love Rainbow Rowell too! Also, did you know they are making a Guernsey movie? So excited!!

    • Jackie B August 30, 2017 at 11:53 am

      !! They are making a Guernsey movie?! How fascinating. I wonder how they will do that– if they will keep the epistolary format in some way, or just toss it and tell the story in “real time”? Soooo excited, regardless. I also adore this book; it’s definitely in the top list of books I recommend to people. I’m always shocked at how few people have heard of it, honestly. I hope the movie will give it some more publicity!

      • Jane @ Greenish Bookshelf August 31, 2017 at 5:35 pm

        I can’t wait for the movie!! Lily James plays Juliet (she’s Cinderella in the 2015 Disney live action movie and in Downton Abbey). I really like her. Actually there are like 5 Downton stars in it so that should be fun! I am totally curious about how they will portray it too. And I’m the same way! I totally recommend it to everyone as well 🙂

        • Jackie B September 1, 2017 at 3:48 pm

          5 Downton stars?! That’s impressive. Well, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. It’s in post-production right now, which is exciting. 😀

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