2008. 274 pages. Hardcover.
From: the public library
In a nutshell:
This is an epistolary novel and the story is told through letters. In 1946, London writer Juliet Ashton starts corresponding with several residents of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. Guernsey was occupied by the Germans during World War II and these residents had started the literary society initially as a cover for a verboten pig roast dinner. The burgeoning friendship between Juliet and her warm-hearted correspondents leads her to visit the island.
At this point, I feel like the last person to have read this novel. Over the summer, a former teacher and then also my aunt recommended it to me. I saw it on the bestseller lists and plastered all over the blogosphere. My initial wariness on reading it was partially due to the title. It seemed ‘cute’ and like it might be filled with artificial bonhemie. Not at all. I started and finished this book yesterday.
I loved Juliet Ashton’s funny and warm writing voice and you could see why she would make such fast friends with the Guernsey folk. I also liked that she didn’t take herself too seriously. The core of the story is Juliet, but the core of the story-within-the story, the Occupation of Guernsey, is Elizabeth McKenna.
Elizabeth McKenna fits into a character type that I often see in recent literature – the “progressive saint.” She’s an independent spirit, ahead of her time. She always knows the right thing to say and does the right things, in the moral perspective of the novel. Elizabeth might have been a too-perfect and thus insufferable character if not distanced by the epistolary structure and the fact that all the stories about her are told by other characters and not by her. I could like her as this legendary figure, with the picture of her character burnished and shined by the loyalty and love of her friends.
Juliet and Elizabeth are just two of a wonderful jumble of characters, and the writers did a good job of making the characters’ voices fairly distinct from one another.
I’m thinking that post-war England (1940’s and 1950’s) is a literary setting that works well for me. In the past year, both I Capture the Castle and The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets became quick favorites of mine. So if any one has more recommendations of books set in this place and time, let me know!
Regarding The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, if you’re a rare person who hasn’t read this book yet, I recommend it.