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[163] The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

“quite apart from my interest in their interest in reading, I have fallen in love with two men: Eben Ramsey and Dawsey Adams. Clovis Fossey and John Booker, I like. I want Amelia Maugery to adopt me; and me, I want to adopt Isola Pribby. I will leave you to discern my feelings for Adelaide Addison (Miss) by reading her letters. The truth is, I am living more in Guernsey than I am in London at the moment—I pretend work with one ear cocked for the sound of post dropping in the box…” [93]

On the heels of her previous book’s success, columnist and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. It’s January 1946, as London is emerging from the shadow of World War II, when culinary basics like icing sugar and eggs are still rationed. By fluke Juliet receives a letter from one Dawsey Adams, a native of Guernsey, the British island once occupied by the Nazis, who has an old book by Charles Lamb that once belonged to her. Although the Germans are gone, there aren’t any bookshops left on Guernsey. Dawsey wishes to ask a favor of Juliet: the name and address of a bookshop in London.

The letter reaches Juliet by fluke because it is sent to her old address where a bomb was dropped at a row of houses behind her building, of which three stories are sheared off by the explosion. In dire need for shelf space at the new sublet, she weeds out duplicate copies of her book collection. Somehow the Essay collection by Charles Lamb, in a turn of serendipity, as if books have some “homing instinct,” finds its way to the hands of Dawsey in Guernsey. The story, of course, does not end with the favor. As Juliet and her correspondent exchange letters, she is drawn into the world of Dawsey and his friends, all the members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a club invented in a spur-of-the-moment manner. It is a ruse created to protect its members from arrest by Germans.

For four months before her sailing forth to the island Juliet maintains correspondence with a pig farmer, a fisherman, a blacksmith (who is famous for his pies), a phrenologist (who reads head lumps), an ironmonger, and other members of the literary society. She learns about their moral philosophical interests in reading but more importantly the transformative impact of the recent German occupation on their lives. To her amazement, their stories all sooner or later trace back to a heroic woman named Elizabeth, who has thought up the lie of the society, who has saved and touched many lives at the expense of her freedom—and she’s not even a native of Guernsey. News of Elizabeth’s death has shaken the island and caused ripples of grief.

Written in an epistolary form, many voices piece together the novel in a swift pace. The lack of dense prose, however, means there is no character development. The sometimes overlapping contents in correspondence reinforce the closeness of these common folks on an island that has received no news from England during the war. The last quarter of the book nose-dives into a romance story that reminisces Jane Austen is somewhat inane, for it trivializes the historical significance the book has built up to. I expect the book would delve more into Elizabeth’s life and the children who were evacuated to England during the war. Nonetheless, it’s a light but staying read about endurance and human connection.

Other Reviews:
The Bluestocking Society
Devourer of Books
Library Queue
Estella’s Revenge
Fizzy Thoughts
Medieval Bookworm
A Fondness for Reading
Stuck in a Book
Literary License

22 Responses

  1. I’ve heard so many, more or less, good things about this book. I confess I’ve been a bit burned by the modern epistolary novel (like A Woman of Independent means), but I think I might have to reconsider and read this one.

  2. Thank you for this review. I have it on my mp3 player from Audible. I’ve read such glowing things and I appreciate your point of view. One thing that made me pick this novel from Audible is because I like to be read letters. I’ll be curious to see what I think.

  3. I agree that this is definitely a light read–but one of the best kinds of light reads, a page turner! It does beg the question, however, about how much more there is to the story of Guernsey’s occupation by the Nazis…

  4. I like your review, as usual! Epistolary novel does not convey much of the dynamics of characters but the rapid exchange constitute a pleasant readability. Actually it would be fun to listen to the audio book for this one!

  5. By the way, I can see a movie coming out of this book. Totally.

  6. I want to at least try this one (although I’m a bit scared given all the buzz), but of course my library doesn’t have it. Sigh!

  7. Yours sounds neutral. Thanks.

  8. bookchronicle:
    I’m not ashamed to say that this book does measure up to 84 Charring Cross Road, with a modern touch and cheesy bit of romance. It’s worth reading if you need a lighter fare. 🙂

  9. Jennifer:
    Thank you for bringing up the audio book, which I think would be very interesting to listen to. I’ll have to re-live the experience of the book with the audio! 🙂

  10. gentle reader:
    It’s a light read with substance and historical background. I certainly have enjoyed it. 🙂

  11. John:
    I agree that this literary form paces the book very well with a welcoming readability. And I was thinking about movie adaptaion as well about halfway through it! 🙂

  12. Andi:
    The queue of this book at my public library is so long that the average waiting period is about 2 months!

  13. Isabel:
    That’s exactly the stance I wish to convey! 🙂

  14. Good review. It’s been so long since I’ve read Austen, but I picked up on the similar romance, and while I would agree the romance was inane, I tend to think Jane Austen is inane as well… 😀

  15. […] to put other books aside to read The Kite Runner or The 19th Wife. Why do you like about them? When The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society first came out, my instinct told me to chuck it because it quickly became the talk-of-the-town type […]

  16. […] The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Fiery The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski A Mercy by Toni Morrison The Hour I First Believed, Wally Lamb The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and Steven T. Murray […]

  17. […] Future of Love Shirley Abbott Letter from Point Clear Dennis McFarland Finding Nouf Zoë Ferraris The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows The Art of Racing in the Rain Garth […]

  18. […] Musing | Ripple Effects | One Swede Read | The Reading Life | Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’? | A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook | Bending Bookshelf | Maw Books […]

  19. […] force and ingenuity, can compound suspense. Three of my favorite reads are written in this format: The Guernsay Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, and A Meeting By the […]

  20. How refreshing to read a review that expresses what I felt about the final quarter of that book – I found the ‘romance’ a bit of a cliche, and out of tune with the tone of the earlier part of the book, though on the whole, I enjoyed it.

  21. Hello my loved one! I want to say that this article is awesome, great written and come with almost all important infos. I would like to look more posts like this .

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