Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

30 Jul

From Barnes & Noble (Guernsey was one of their Recommends selections when this was first published):

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society begins in January 1946, when popular author Juliet Ashton, much like her fellow British citizens, is emerging from the dark days of World War II. As Juliet exchanges a series of letters with her publisher and her best friend, readers immediately warm to this author in search of a new subject in the aftermath of war. By the time Juliet receives an unexpected query from Dawsey Adams, we are caught in a delightful web of letters and vivid personalities and eager for Juliet to find the inspiration she seeks.

Dawsey, a farmer on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel, has come into possession of a book that once belonged to Juliet. Spurred by a mutual admiration for the writer, the two launch an epistolary conversation that reveals much about Dawsey’s Guernsey and the islanders’ recent lives under Nazi occupation. Juliet is especially interested to learn about the curious beginnings of “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,” and before long she is exchanging letters with its other members — not only Dawsey but Isola the vegetable seller, Eben the fisherman, and blacksmith Will Thisbee, creator of the famous potato peel pie.

As Juliet soon discovers, the most compelling island character is Elizabeth, the courageous founder of the society, who lives in the memories of all who knew her. Each person who writes to Juliet adds another chapter to the story of Elizabeth’s remarkable wartime experiences. Touched by the stories the letters deliver, Juliet can’t help but travel to Guernsey herself — a decision that will have surprising consequences for everyone involved.

Drawn together by their love of books and affection for each other, the unforgettable characters of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society collectively tell a moving tale of endurance and friendship. Through the chorus of voices they have created, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows have composed a rich tale that celebrates the power of hope and human connection in the shadows of war.

 

This book was so delightful that I read it almost entirely in one sitting on my flight from Atlanta to San Francisco. The novel is told completely through letters, a style I have to admit took a little getting used to. The language and richness of the characters certainly helped and I was thoroughly engaged before we even were introduced to the Society. As a reader, a novel essentially about the joy of reading and of discovering new works was fascinating, but reading as a community builder was really at the heart of this book. Each character has such a unique voice and literary spin that it was easy to keep track of everyone’s letters, something I feared would confuse me.  By the time I got to the end, I was rooting for each of these characters, and devastated when something didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped, overjoyed when something did, and gasping outloud when certain surprises are revealed. 

Juliet is really the driving plot force in the story, though she becomes focused on the central figure of her own developing story: Elizabeth. It was interesting to see another story evolve within the context of the story I was reading. The layers here are so complex and thick that there’s plenty to sink your teeth into. Juliet is the kind of woman I would love to become; in the aftermath of WWII she is spunky and ambitious and flirty and sincere (and a writer!!) — truly a charming combination.

I wrote last week about NPR’s list of Beach Reads and they’ve issued the final results, 100 best beach reads as voted on by their listeners (side note: if you don’t listen to NPR, but voted on their on-line poll, and read their site, can you be a reader of a radio station?). The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society came in #55 on the list, so if you’re scared off by the background of WWII, don’t be. This is thoroughly enjoying and really easy fare.

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