The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

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.

Review:

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.

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8 Comments

Filed under Historical Fiction

8 responses to “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

  1. You’re not the last person to read this … I am! 🙂 I got it several months ago as part of a book swap that my office organized, and I still haven’t opened it. Hopefully it will be among the books I get to in 2010 …

  2. I haven’t had the chance to read it either even though I have been planning on it. I just never seem to remember to grab it at the library..maybe I should just request it and then I wouldn’t be able to forget it 🙂 Great review and glad to hear that you enjoyed it!

  3. Melissa & Samantha: Good to know I wasn’t the last one after all!

  4. Jason

    So basically, you and your sister also managed to finish a book in a day to start the new year – must be genetics! Glad you enjoyed this book; I read it back in July. Now I’ve got to hunt down the Minnesota murder mysteries you just reviewed (though I probably won’t get to them until I finish the books I just picked up from the library — all you book-bloggers are an awful influence on me!).
    Incidentally, I just finished The City and the City. After learning to unsee all the exciting, forbidden details about Ul Qoma and the Breach that made me want to flip ahead and learn more, I settled in and enjoyed the investigation in Beszel. I do wish the results of the investigation were thought through and explained better in the last chapters, but I very much enjoyed how Mieville explained the concept of the two cities and the Breach. The book kind of reminded me of The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead — another book that scrutinizes society through a fanciful change of perspective (in this one, the characters live in a vertical city where elevators are revered but upward mobility is not guaranteed — especially to an elevator inspector caught on the wrong side of a conspiracy).

    • Yes – you had mentioned Whitehead’s book to me before and it’s somewhere buried in my now-huge to-read list. I will get to it, I hope! 🙂 I agree that the setting and concept is the best part of The City & The City. K. is actually going to track down The City & The City sometime soon, as she was intrigued by my description of it. So the sisters really are on similar wavelengths right now.

  5. I loved this book, especially because of the insight into the German occupation of the Channel Isles. After reading the book, I watched the miniseries Island at War, which was excellent.

    http://www.netflix.com/Movie/Island_at_War/70019762

    • That is the second time this year that someone has mentioned the miniseries Island at War to me. (And so it’s already on my Netflix queue.) Doesn’t it always work that way though – you never hear of a movie or book before and then it’s everywhere.

  6. I just discovered this book, and I thought it was wonderful. Spent all day wrapped in a blanket (I have a cold, so I have an excuse) glued to it. The fascinating thing is that the main character never appears at all, you just hear about her in little tidbits of information. The story is artfully unfolded bit by bit, so you’re always dying to find out what happened next.
    My only criticism of the story is that the ending isn’t as strong as the beginning. I think it weakens the book to have Juliet actually go to Guernsey–I’d prefer her to learn about the island from all the wonderful letters and then have it end with her deciding to go to the island. But it’s a beautiful and creative book, and reminds me why I love to read. As Juliet says, reading can get you through some hard times.

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