The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer (and Annie Barrows)
Mini-Summary (blurb taken from the back of the book): January 1946: Writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And so begins a remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German occupation, and of a society as extraordinary as its name.
Some Themes: the healing power of friendship and companionship, nontraditional family, impact of war, chaos and order, coping with death, embracing love, empowerment of self and community, destruction of beauty, sacrifice, social and individual progress, motherhood, inner-strength
Characters: Juliet Ashton, Sidney Stark, Sophie Strachan, Dawsey Adams, Isola Pribby, Amelia Maugery, Eben Ramsey, John Booker, Elizabeth McKenna, Kit, Remy, Markham Reynolds, Gilly Gilbert
Some Thoughts (Spoiler-ish, fair warning):
When I decided to read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I actually had very little idea what it was about. All I knew was that it was a favorite among book clubs and that it was written in a series of letters. I was intrigued by the idea of a novel composed entirely of letters, so I did not let the odd-sounding title deter me and got to reading. Much to my own surprise, the reading turned into devouring, and I am now extremely pleased to say that I have found a new all-time favorite book.
I don’t regularly read historical fiction, but the characters in the novel are written so impeccably and vividly, I nearly forgot that it is fiction. I love that each character has their own distinct voice. I feared that because the book is written in epistolary style, the letters would start to meld together and sound the same, but my fears were unwarranted. There is a wonderful mix of personalities throughout the book: brave, shy, motherly, steadfast, silly, empathetic, rude, gentlemanly… all the personality quirks are represented.
What I find particularly appealing about the epistolary style is that I felt like I had secret insights into the characters’ lives since letter writing is such a personal and private form of communication. I loved watching the bonds between Juliet and her new friends grow stronger with each letter, each sign off and signature getting more and more familiar and affectionate, from “Hoping not to trouble you” to “Yours ever.” I also enjoyed the little “love” notes Mark and Juliet sent to each other during their courtship; they looked suspiciously like the flirtatious texts of today. I guess flirting can only change its forms so much over the generations.
Since I had no real clue what the plot of the novel was about before reading it, I was swept away into the romance aspect of the book. I booed at Mark and cheered for Dawsey. I was actually taken by surprise with Dawsey. In the beginning of the book, I thought it was very bold of him to write a letter to a complete stranger, and then I was confused by his shyness when he finally meets Juliet face-to-face. I actually didn’t see the Dawsey-Juliet romance coming, but I ate it up anyway. I thought the switch to Isola’s first-person observations at the climax of the book is very clever on the author’s part and perfect in relaying the love scene.
Love stories and character growth aside, the historical insights are incredibly interesting and well fleshed out. I learned quite a bit about the German occupation and the effects the war had on England and her people. At some points, the testimonials that the citizens of Guernsey gave to Juliet moved me to tears. Ah, such a great book. Makes me want to write a good old fashioned letter to someone.
“I can’t think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can’t talk to, or worse, someone I can’t be silent with” (8).
“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive—all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment” (11).
“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books” (53).
“I feel as though I’ve emerged from a black tunnel and found myself in the middle of a carnival. I don’t particularly care for carnivals, but after the tunnel, it’s delicious” (60).
“I think you learn more if you’re laughing at the same time” (89).
“I am in a constant state of surprise these days. Actually, now that I calculate, I’ve been betrothed only one full day, but it seems like my whole life has come into being in the last twenty-four hours. Think of it! We could have gone on longing for one another and pretending not to notice forever. This obsession with dignity can ruin your life if you let it” (274).
My Rating: 5/5 Stars
Information about my copy for my own records:
Publication: Dial Press Trade paperback edition 2009, Originally published 2008
Genre: Historical Fiction, Epistolary Novel
Page Count: 274