Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
First published in: 2008
This edition: Bantam 2009
Genre: (post-)WW2, romance
Cover design by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich; cover photograph by Christian Raoul Skrein von Bumbala
This book with one of the most unusual and interesting titles I've run across in years has been recommended to me countless times, by various people – people who have gotten to know me and my taste in books rather well ever since I've started this project. Needless to say, I happily agreed to do something with their insistence that I should read THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY; I figured this one would be right up my alley. And it was.
GUERNSEY LITERARY is as adorable as the title suggests. Centered around Juliet Ashton, this epistolary novel has her writing and receiving letters from her closest friends – one of them being her publisher and confidant, Sidney Stark. One day, she receives a letter from a man called Dawsey Adams, who hails from the island Guernsey and is one of the founding members of – that's right – the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Intrigued, Juliet pursues this interesting new contact, and soon finds herself completely taken with the society and all of its members… and Guernsey itself.
Much like Juliet Ashton, I myself felt utterly in love with everything Guernsey: the people and the book club which was founded out of necessity during the German Occupation of the island. In that sense I already felt I was like Juliet in some way. There's a part in the book which has Juliet writing about why she called of her engagement to Rob: he had boxed up all of her books and put his sports trophees in their bookcase instead! (Me: "BLASPHEMY!") Ohhh no. No no no. That just isn't right! Furthermore, I'm also inclined to throw teapots at insufferably rude and irritating people (unless said teapot is too pretty).
Not only could I relate to Juliet in every possible way, I also understood GUERNSEY LITERARY to be about the love of reading and books. Reading as a means of an escape, but also as a means of joy and happiness during hard times – World War 2 in this case. This turned out to be a book after my own heart: a book about loving books, a book about loving people who love books. I also discovered more joy in my life ever since I've started reading more. So I feel I understood this book, why it was written and why it is loved so much today. It's for us, readers.
Despite the many smiles generated by reading this book, it is also important to stress that it does not in any way make light of the subject of the second world war. Yes, GUERNSEY LITERARY is light and uplifting, and this was refreshing in a way; I tend to avoid WW2 books because they can be too hard to bear (for me). WW2 is treated with sincerity and respect in GUERNSEY LITERARY, but the subject never weighs too heavily. But tragic tales are included, blended in with the triumphant ones. The story of Elizabeth, one of the society's members, will pull at your heartstrings, while other stories will make you laugh.
What perhaps saddened me equally as some of the stories described in GUERNSEY LITERARY was knowing that the author, Mary Ann Shaffer, passed away before seeing her work published. Her niece, Annie Barrows, has been so good as to help her aunt complete her novel. But there won't be any more books by Shaffer, which I feel as a loss. Shaffer was in my opinion an author with the talent to write one of the most human books I've read in a while, selecting those precious moments that move any human being to laughter or tears and putting these moments into unpretentious, simple words that make sense and are beautiful for the feelings they evoke.
Apart from being a book about the love of books and Guernsey post-WW2, GUERNSEY LITERARY is also about deep friendship (the kind that's for life). I was touched by the letters that were sent to Juliet from everyone in Guernsey – and vice versa – and the bonds created through handwritten efforts. In a way, it made me miss the good old days of sending out real letters as a means to get to know someone and to keep in touch. Before email and Twitter, when you'd head out to your post box and find that letter with real stamps on it, little drawings and stickers covering the envelope, a letter inside with one of the most personal traits a human being can have: real handwriting. Okay, GUERNSEY LITERARY is a printed book, but that excitement of letter writing seems as real as can be.
Finally, GUERNSEY LITERARY is a sweet and at times comical love story to be enjoyed by romantic souls, whether you're an Austen fan and/or love a good chick lit every now and then. Juliet reminded me in some ways of Austen's Emma, as she's for the longest time oblivious to her own feelings while misinterprating situations around her.
It has been a while since I've read a book about which I have nothing negative to say. Nothing to stress or point out as a 'fair reviewer' should try to do. I've got nothing but appreciation and (re)commendation for this one. Get this book. Cozy up somewhere and let THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY sweep you off your feet, as it has swept Juliet off hers – and me off mine.
R&R series © Karin E. Lips 2008-2010 (and beyond)