The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society By Mary Ann Shaffer, By Annie Barrows“…Then Elizabeth drew in her breath and stepped forward.  Elizabeth isn’t tall so those pistols were pointing at her eyes, but she didn’t blink.  She acted as if she didn’t see those pistols at all.  She walked up to the officer in charge and started talking.  You’ve never heard such lies. How sorry she was that we had broken curfew.  How we had been attending a meeting of the Guernsey Literary Society and the evenings discussion of ‘Elizabeth and her German Garden’ had been so delightful that we had all lost track of time.  Such a wonderful book – had he read it?”

Its 1946 and author Juliet Ashton has writers block.  Out of the blue, she receives a letter from a gentleman in Guernsey by the name of Dawsey Adams; he has a book that once belonged to her and he hoped that she would be able to shed some light on the author at he fascinated him so.

So starts the beginning of their friendship and soon he has mentioned that he is part of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  Interest piqued, Juliet asks Dawsey what it is and how the name came about.  The beginning extract is the start of the societies tale which in turn unleashes a whole host of characters whom Juliet is just dying to hear more about as they sound so interesting.  Before long, letters are going back and forth between Juliet and the members of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society regarding their lives during the German Occupation and she realises that (as the back of the book says) “the society is every bit as extraordinary as it’s name.”

Admittedly, the title of this book sound much more interesting due to its quirkiness than the blurb on the back.  Still, after reading several reviews on this book (although admittedly not on here or the other side strangely enough!) I found myself compelled to try it for myself, everyone seemed to have fallen in love with it!

I am no exception to this.  This is the most delightful, heart warming, witty and charming book I’ve read for quite a while and if you read my reviews you will know I read a fair few books!

The book is wholly written in letter format (or for those clever people out there who know the proper word for this, a epistolary novel – I had to look that up!)  I’ve read a few books written this way although they have mainly been through email correspondence.  This one outshines all the ones I have read before for several reasons.

Firstly, it is fascinating to read something that is written in letter format since in 2009 the practise of corresponding in this way has pretty much died a slow death.  Instead of quick, thoughtless text messages, blogs emails (and perhaps face book status’ and twitters?), the authors who pen the letters have taken the time to sit down and write and have put some effort into what they are saying.  This clearly comes through in the writing and makes each letter thoughtful, insightful and unreservedly fascinating.

I particularly liked the way the author of this book successfully managed to create and develop all the wonderful characters In this story purely through their writing.  Each main character was utterly endearing to me and I loved reading about each and every one of them.  Juliet herself is immediately likeable; early 30’s, smart and single, her love of reading and writing is clearly apparent from the outset which only endeared me to her more.  More than the other writers of letters in this story, Juliet’s correspondence – especially to that of her long time friend and publisher Sidney – is tinged with humour and on several occasions I found myself smiling or laughing out loud by a turn of phrase she used.

“…the characters are simply wonderful – not only did I want to join The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society but I wanted to live there and have all these wonderful people as my friends.”

Each letter manages to create a full and vivid picture of life during and after the war in Guernsey with what seems like little effort, although obviously I do not know how accurate the facts are In this book (nor do I care that much, I enjoyed it and I won’t have it spoilt by facts!)  The images and stories that are conjured from the correspondence was so vivid, I felt like I was there with them.  Not only that, but each character almost felt real to me.  Each letter is sent to Juliet (although occasionally there are letters to Sidney from other Islanders) and each characters first contact with Juliet created an everlasting and colourful snapshot of their personality.  I particularly loved the way in which all the character started off by sharing their favourite novel  or piece of writing with her and in a way, their choices and their opinions (which were always so cleverly explained!) were the most accurate way of showing off their personalities.

This is such a short simple book, the letter format along with my eagerness to devour and enjoy every moment meant that I made light work of this book and finished it in a day – a perfect read to sit soaking in the sunshine on the back of a boat on a Sunday!  It has all the elements that make it a wonderful story.  The German occupation in Guernsey is not something I’ve ever really thought about, but reading the tales of these people provided me with an insight to life outside of a town during the war.  It’s fun – there are little anecdotes thrown in to the letters that kept me amused and written so cleverly considering that it would look forced to put so much detail into letters such as these.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the characters are simply wonderful – not only did I want to join The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society but I wanted to live there and have all these wonderful people as my friends.  The way in which the author built up their community and their life was charming.  The fact that Juliet, a stranger from London is welcomed into their lives with such warmth and love just made me want to do it too!  I guess the author could get away with such wonderful niceness in the human race as this is a different time. That was the other thing that struck me; how amazing it is to read about a community that pulls together during times of tragedy to look after their own.  Yes, there are sad moments in this book, it wouldn’t be a true portrayal of life let alone a true portrayal of an island recovering from war if it didn’t.  But it still remained entirely uplifting.  For once there is nothing to leave a bitter taste in my mouth; it didn’t leave me with any questions or confusions, I read the last page and I was just sad that I couldn’t read more!

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

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