Saturday, August 1, 2009

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

Genre: Fiction, with a historical basis
Publisher, Year: Dial Press, 2009
Other Works: Ivy & Bean series (Barrows)
Rating: A, or Great Read
Premise: On the island of Guernsey, a small place in the English Channel, a group of neighbors and their story of survival during the German occupation in World War II are discovered by an English writer on the mainland.

This was another book club pick, and it was well worth the time. If I could sum up this book in one word, I think I would have to choose charming. I’ve read a couple of books now in the journal/letter format, and it works for me. I heard it described as Austen-esque, and I think that is a very apt description, as letter-writing was also then taken as a serious and authoritative, and also sometimes humorous, form of communication.

Juliet Ashton wrote a regular newspaper column during the war. We meet her as she’s touring to promote a book made up of her collection of columns. She soon receives a mysterious letter from a man named Dawsey. He lives on the island of Guernsey—a small island located in the English Channel—and found a book that used to belong to Juliet. They strike up a friendship through letters, where she learns about the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and becomes intrigued by it. She ultimately decides that she must go to Guernsey and make it the subject of her next book. While visiting, she meets in person that unlikely circle of friends she’s been corresponding with. She finds herself welcomed into a community of people who epitomize the pain and loss of war, the healing power of friendship, and the strength of the written word. +/-

I really liked the main character, Juliet. Although, I’ve read reviews of people who thought her shallow, I quite liked her quick wit and adventurous spirit. And, although Guernsey was a place of sad stories and hard times, it was also a refuge for a strange mixture of people, bound by the ties of true friendship and community. I loved the cast of characters in Guernsey and how they could still find reasons to smile and laugh. It reminded me of how people can become great friends even when they have nothing else in common except for being thrown together in the same place. I also loved how they used literature for an imaginative escape from their dreary reality. And, Juliet jumps into this world feet first. It’s like she always belonged there, like she’s coming home.

Elizabeth, a strong, creative woman and young mother, was sent away from Guernsey during the occupation before Juliet gets to meet her. Although she is not a “voice” in the book, her presence is expressed through each member of the Society. I think it could be argued that Elizabeth is the central character in the book, rather than Juliet, although Juliet is our heroine. It was Elizabeth’s bravery and lust for life that kept Guernsey going and fueled her neighbors’ dying hopes. In the end, I think that sentiment is the one that shines through: hope for Guernsey and for us, too.

It was a quick, easy read, and I really enjoyed every minute of it. I would definitely recommend this book.

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