Saturday, November 20, 2010

Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Random House Reader's Circle)


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows is a charming novel set on the island of Guernsey post WWII.  The novel is unique in that it is told completely in letters (and the occasional telegram); through the letters, the authors provide insight to the psyche of the islanders as they rebuild their lives following the oppression of the German Occupation.  They cope with loss and try to make sense of the many injuries they and the Island suffered at the hands of the Germans. 


Juliet Ashton is a writer living in London when she receives a letter from Dawsey, a Guernsey native who has received a book she once owned and wants to learn more about its author.  Her exchange with Dawsey piques Juliet's interest in the Island and she makes her way there to write a book about the German occupation of the Island during WWII.  Over the course of her stay on the Island, she learns of the indecencies suffered by the Island residents during Occupation  - with the German soldiers controlling access to food and other basics, some residents befriended soldiers and turned in neighbors in order to gain privileges from the Germans.  They put their young children on boats to England to protect them during the Occupation and then agonized about their whereabouts and wondered when or if they would ever see them again.

Credit: TripAdvisor
The islanders are most affected, however, by the loss of their own Elizabeth.  Elizabeth, mother to Kit and the darling of the Island community, is sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp by the Germans and never returns.  Her absence leaves a gaping hole in the community; Juliet ultimately steps into that hole and endeavors to tell Elizabeth's story.  Each of the islanders reveal part of Elizabeth's story to Juliet and in the process Juliet falls in love with both the Island and its residents.

Credit: TripAdvisor


I was so charmed by this book - it took time to get used to the epistolary style and to keep track of the characters but once I did I enjoyed the quiet stories of each of the islanders.  The authors did an excellent job of mixing the every day with the dark days of the occupation.  Interestingly, I read one review of this book in which a commenter spoke of how much she disliked the book and felt the authors had made light of a very serious time in British history during which many had suffered.  I must say I disagree -  I don't think the authors made light of what Guernsey endured during the War at all- in fact, I found their war stories even more poignant interspersed as they were between the eccentricities of the island's residents.  Most of all, however, I was inspired by the triumph of the human spirit evidenced by each of the residents as they came to terms with what they had endured during the war and moved on with life.  My one regret is that I waited so long to read this favorite!





I read many great reviews of this book but the one that inspired me to take the book off the shelf and read it was this one by Cornflower Books.

17 comments:

  1. Great review! Charming is exactly right. The book totally captured the British stiff upper lip and sense of humor when faced with adversity. I don’t usually like stories told in letters but this one really worked. It was fun to see some pictures on the island. You might also enjoy the fabulous Foyle’s War series from British TV.

    ReplyDelete
  2. To only make stories set during war sad and serious is to ignore the fact that people have an incredible capacity to to go on with life which includes light moments.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I read a ton of amazing reviews and haven't read it yet. Thanks for including pictures, adds an additional special touch.

    I must read this, maybe even before end of year.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I really enjoyed this book as well. And like you I don't think the authors made light of the war experiences, or at least, that is not how I read it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. A very good read.
    This week there was a report on the BBC news about some papers that were found in a wardrobe.
    The papers were accounts written by some of the islanders that were sent to the war camps.

    Such a shame this was Mary's only novel before she died and she is not here to see the success of her work.

    carol

    ReplyDelete
  6. It was one of my favorite books last year. A gem of a book that is on my keeper shelf.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I read this book last year if I remember right, and I enjoyed it. I agree also that the suffering during the war wasn't downplayed (there are some horrifying passages and descriptions of what went on, both on the island and in the concentration camp where Elizabeth is taken). But the book also has so much warmth and humor in it. The characters are a delight too (as is their love of all different kinds of books and reading material). I'm glad you recommended this one.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I read this last year (the review isn't on my site yet). I was expecting a lot from it because I'd read so many positive reviews and for me it just didn't reach up to the hype. I enjoyed it well enough but I've read better 'war books'. I don't tend to get on that well with novels written in letter though, so that probably makes a difference. My full review should be up some time this week but it really doesn't compare to yours.

    Visiting from the Saturday review of books by the way :)

    ReplyDelete
  9. This book was a bit too saccharine for me. I did like the epistolary format though.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I have this book on my shelf and need to read it. I love a good epistolary novel.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I have looked at this book numerous times, but never picked it up. Your review has piqued my interest, so I am adding it to my list of books to read.

    ReplyDelete
  12. It has been a while, but I did like this book when I read it in 2008.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Um, I still have this one waiting on my shelf. Can't seem to open it no matter how many rave reviews I read!

    ReplyDelete
  14. I loved this book. I felt the epistolary section of the novel was just lovely and helped the reader truly understand the characters. I agree that it did not make light of the Occupation in any way. In fact, I felt that it was handled with the right amount of gravitas. I'm so glad you liked it!

    ReplyDelete
  15. I absolutely loved this book, and I'm glad to see you enjoyed it, too. I think the authors show the sadness and the horror of the Nazis without making the story overwhelming. I thought it was the perfect balance of heavy and light. I hope it's okay to link to your review on War Through the Generations.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Whoa. I really need to try this book.

    ReplyDelete
  17. This is one of my favorite books. I listened to the audiobook last year and I have to say that listening to it helped me to better keep track of characters since the correspondents all narrated in different voices.

    ReplyDelete