Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

If you stacked all the books currently on my TBR one on top of the other, the pile would be more than twice my height. According to Goodreads, there are 195 books I’m intending to read one day, and I’m pretty sure I still haven’t added all of the books I own but haven’t read yet… This has a point, and I swear I’m getting to it. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was not on this list until a few days ago, when I saw it sitting on the couch at home. The title intrigued me. Idly, I picked it up and glanced at the blurb on the back cover. It mentioned books and WW2, two of my favourite subjects. Suddenly, it had jumped the queue.

It turns out, my mother had borrowed it from the library. Much as I hate to admit it, we often enjoy the same books, so as soon as she had finished it, I grabbed it.

The Plot

The novel begins in January 1946. During the Second World War, Juliet Ashton wrote a regular newspaper column pointing out the lighter side of wartime. At the close of the war Sidney Stark, the elder brother of a schoolfriend, published a volume of the best of these columns and is now eagerly awaiting Juliet’s next manuscript.

At the same time, Juliet receives a letter from a member of ‘the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’. Dawsey Adams had found her name and address on the fly-leaf of a second-hand book he enjoyed, and as there are no book shops on Guernsey anymore, he asks her to assist him in finding more works by the same author. Juliet is intrigued, not only by the strange request, but by the oddly named book club. She promptly strikes up a lively correspondence, not merely with Dawsey, but with many members (and detractors) of the society. She learns that the society was formed out of necessity during the German occupation of the Channel Islands, and sees that this is a story worth telling.

The entire book is actually a series of letters written by, to, or about Juliet. The correspondence varies between long letters, short notes and telegrams between Juliet and her publisher, his sister, her overbearing American suitor and the members of the society. As the story unfolds, the characters develop ever deeper friendships and Juliet attempts to piece together the stories of individuals into a coherent narrative.

I often judge the quality of a book by how quickly I read it. If it’s not grabbing me, a book can take me weeks. I finished this one in under 8 hours. I just couldn’t put it down. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but I will say that the depictions of life under German rule in Guernsey tally very closely with memoirs I have read of people under similar circumstances in the Netherlands and Poland. As far as recommendations go, this is probably more of a ‘girl’ book. That said, the romantic sup-plot takes up comparatively little real-estate, so I can imagine men enjoying it too, just probably not quite as much. Sadly, this was Mary Ann Schaffer’s only novel. The 73-year-old former librarian was in ill health when the manuscript was sold, and died just months before the book was published, after asking her niece, Annie Barrows, to step in and complete the editing process.

One last point. Apparently a film adaption is in the works, with filming due to start later this year. Part of me can’t wait, and part of me says “Don’t hold your breath”. After all, they’ve been promising me a movie version of Wicked for years, and I’m still waiting…

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