I prefer to come to a book without reading reviews so I can make up my own mind. But sometimes there is a book that I missed in its early days but which goes onto be hugely popular. The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows is such a book. It was first brought to my attention by fellow author Claire Dyer who chose it as her ‘Porridge & Cream’ comfort read. When I asked Claire why it was her choice, she said, “it’s essentially about good people and reading it reminds me that there’s more goodness in the world than sometimes is apparent.” Now I know what she means.
The story is told in letter form, a structure I admit to having doubts about before I started reading. But the manner in which the letters flow and the information is dripped in means there are no information gaps, no repetitions. It is 1946 and writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a man in Guernsey who by chance owns a book that once belonged to her. And so begins Juliet’s correspondence with Dawsey Adams and his fellow members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Dawsey encourages other members to write to Juliet with their own experiences of the German occupation of the island. And so we hear from the nice, and not-so-nice characters.
What could be a superficial account of the islanders’ lives becomes a cleverly managed tale of a community that survives by mutual support, generosity, toughness, bravery and above all kindness. As letter after letter arrives from different people, we build up full pictures of the incidents that happened. Although there is a romantic thread to this tale – the rather full-of-himself Mark Reynolds – this is really a story about the survival of an island community throughout a time of unimagined difficulty.
At first Juliet is entranced by the islanders’ stories but as they write more letters she wants to meet them in person, both to put faces to her correspondents and to scout the possibility of writing a book about their experiences. The book is split into two parts; in part one, Juliet is in London; in part two she travels to Guernsey. The story takes places during nine months of 1946; this feels a tight time span for some of the emotional relationships to develop and at times the familiarity and trust seemed to progress in leaps rather than steps, but perhaps this is understandable post-war when people grasped at chances of normality and happiness.
The title suggests this is a nice, quirky read – and it places it did make me chuckle – but it also tells of brutality, torture and death and the lasting after-effects of war.
I was left wishing I hadn’t read it yet and that I had it to look forward to. Just the book to re-read when your spirit needs a lift.
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And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE GUERNSEY LITERARY & POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-47C via @SandraDanby