Friday, February 27, 2015

Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society
By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Dial Press May 2009
290 pages
From my shelves

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

During World War II, Juliet Ashton wrote a column for a London newspaper about life during wartime. It was so well received that her columns were collected and published as a book to great acclaim. Now Juliet is looking for a new thing to write about and a new direction for her life. One day, she receives a letter from a man who ended up with one of her books. The two strike up a correspondence and Juliet learns that his island home was occupied by the Germans during the war. He and his friends accidentally started a literary society during the war years after being caught out past curfew. Juliet is fascinated by his story and decides that her next book will be about the inhabitants of Guernsey, never imagining that they will upend her life in the most unexpected and wonderful ways.

I think the best word for this book is lovely. It sounds trite, but this novel manages to be heartfelt without feeling saccharine. With the simple act of sending letters, the characters in this novel open their hearts to new people and new experiences. But the characters created by Shaffer and Barrows are not so kind that they are nauseating. Each one has some spunk, whether that means ignoring gender norms for their time or defying the Nazis by eating the last pig on the island and covering up their escapades with a book club.

This book is told entirely through correspondence and, although we may occasionally wonder if people would actually write such things down, the charm and optimism of the characters more than compensates for it. Perhaps one of the reasons that this book feels so warm and inviting is the story behind its authorship. Mary Anne Shaffer wrote most of this book, which was her first novel. After Shaffer became ill, her niece Annie Barrows (author of beloved children's books such as Ivy and Bean), finished the book for her. The love for family and literature that the two women shared is evident on every page of this story.

It's easy to look at the world and see a lot of darkness and pain. We have many authors who articulate that beautifully in both non-fiction and novels. The characters in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society have experienced the terror of war and the pain of loss, but now they are coming out the other side. It is good for the soul sometimes to read a book where everyone gets a happy ending, where people are genuinely kind to each other, and where the darkness of the past eventually gives way to happiness in the present. 

13 comments:

  1. I'm a sucker for epistolary novels...especially when they're well done...and I really loved this book. It's one I own, because it's the kind of book I like to reread and enjoy more than once. I'm glad you liked it, too.

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    1. I'm wary of them, but I'm not sure why. Most of the epistolary novels that I've read have been wonderful!

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  2. "I think the best word for this book is lovely. It sounds trite, but this novel manages to be heartfelt without feeling saccharine." - That's exactly it. It's not something I can say about a lot of books, but it really was exactly lovely. I read this for my mom's book club (I'm sure I had a good reason? I'm not IN her book club so...) or I wouldn't have picked this up, so I'm really glad it came my way!

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    1. Sometimes you just have to overcome your readerly instincts. I was kind of turned off by another epistolary story and then I thought it would be just too precious to handle. I'm glad I was wrong!

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  3. I loved this book! It's been a number of years since I've read it now, but I thought it was completely charming. I also loved the sense of place that it presented for the island of Guernsey.

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    1. Yes, that's a great point. You really felt like you had visited Guernsey and met all of these people.

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  4. Your review is really lovely too! Sometimes it is nice to read a book that highlights the good in the world and which is just happy. I've had this on my to-read pile for a long time, but am hoping this will be the year I finally get to it.

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    1. I have to confess that I probably ended up reading this one because it was small! I was looking for smaller books to take on a trip and this one would fit quite nicely in my bag (along with three or four friends). :)

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  5. I really loved this novel. It's been a while since I read it, but I remember it being one of my favorites at the time!

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    1. It's such a shame that Shaffer passed away. She obviously had a gift for writing!

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  6. My book club read this book last year, and we all enjoyed it. "Lovely" is the perfect word to describe it!

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    1. I think this must have been a perfect book club pick! There are so many things to discuss.

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