The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
The Dial Press, 2008. Hardcover, 274 pages.
This epistolary novel is a gem! And that’s why I chose it for a book club pick for the club I lead at my library this year. Plus, it ranks among my all time favorites.
Juliet Ashton is a writer whom has just finished touring war-torn Britain to promote her book, a collection of newspaper articles she wrote during World War II. Her publishing company, co-partnered by long-time friend Stanley Stark had requested that she write another book. At first, Juliet does not know what to write about, but soon a letter arrives giving her an idea.
Dawsey Adams wrote to Juliet after finding her name and address are in a book he bought. He requested that Juliet to help him locate some addition books by or about Charles Lamb. Once correspondence begins in earnest, the story of how a group of Guernsey Islanders survived German Occupation comes alive. Dawsey and his friends formed the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society after an encounter with German soldiers after curfew due to an illegal food exchange. This came about because Elizabeth McKenna told the soldiers that they lost track of time discussing books and the society was born out of this charade. However, under the care of Elizabeth, Amelia Maugery, Isola Pribby, Eben Ramsey, and a host of other eccentric characters the society grows, the people become passionate readers, and lifelong friendships are formed, all making the occupation easier to bear.
After learning about the society, Juliet asks for the other members to write to her about their experiences, hoping it would provide inspiration for new forthcoming book. With that, she begins receiving letters from the islanders describing their wartime experiences and begins corresponding with them. Though the letters, all become friends and Juliet visits the island to conduct further research. In addition to spending time with her new friends, Juliet cares for Elizabeth’s daughter, Kit. Throughout, Juliet finds she can no longer imagine life without her new “family.”
There is so much more I could say about this book’s plot, but I cannot spoil the story. When reading about the antics the islanders came up with to thwart the Germans, many were humorous. I spend a lot of time laughing when reading this! For example, one islander, a valet, convince the Germans he was the lord of the manor. In another, one citizen of Guernsey disliked the society and was the foil to the members; their clashes always had some punchline (sometimes literally!). The Germans find subtle ways to help the citizens, bringing a smile to ones face, either though kindness or as part of a chuckle of disbelief. However, the humor is subtle and of the British variety or more reminiscent of older comedies, such as I Love Lucy. Elizabeth’s brazen character provided the glue for the story, as she thought fast, cared deeply, and was fearless, leading all the other members to adore her. Additionally, the book’s romance angle was well-thought out; Juliet seemingly had three suitors and Shaffer and Barrows kept us on our feet throughout most of the book as to whom would win Juliet’s hand, if any. The writing style flowed; had vivid, well-written descriptions; and read like dialogue.
I would recommend this novel for its humor and the history learned within. The latter was very informative and I’ll have to look more into the historical facts. I would also gladly read another book by the main author, Mary Ann Shaffer, but she passed away after an illness. While she was unable to finish the book due to the illness, thanks to her niece, Annie Barrows, a children’s author, the book was completed and published before Shaffer’s death. Also, I have read and reviewed Barrows only other adult book, The Truth According to Us.
Have you read this novel, if so what did you think? Would you think it would make for a good book club discussion? I hope it does. Do you have a similar themed book to suggest, fiction or nonfiction?
P.S. If you have read this book before, check back next week for a review on an upcoming novel of a similar style.