Book: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
A colleague, knowing my love of books and history, lent me this book to read. I’ve had little success with recommendations from others, so I approached this novel with some initial trepidation. That vanished within the first five pages.
Juliet Ashton, on a tour promoting her first book (a collection of her newspaper columns printed during the war) corresponds with her publisher and his sister, both very dear friends. Upon her return to London, she finds a letter from a gentleman called Dawsey Adams living on Guernsey—turns out he bought a book by Charles Lamb she donated some time before, and he wants her help in finding a London bookseller so he can acquire more of Lamb’s work. Juliet and Dawsey begin a correspondence that introduces her to the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a group of Dawsey’s friends formed in desperation to evade punishment during the German occupation of the island. Juliet’s correspondence soon includes the entire society as she learns what life was like for them under German rule and wonders (with the rest of the society) what fate will befall the founder and key member of the society, Elizabeth McKenna, whom the Germans set to prison on the continent.
Juliet is charmed by and eventually falls in love with the society, as did I. They are an eclectic group of people; some prosperous, some educated, some creative, some eccentric. They are united by their love of books and reading (a love not all shared at the beginning), their struggles with isolation and deprivation under the repressive German occupation, and their intense admiration of and loyalty to their captured founder and her daughter.
I tend to have a love/hate relationship with epistolary novels—I love the style, but the letter-writers often recall events and entire conversations with far too much clarity and detail for reality. Not so here. The letters are relatively brief and read like actual correspondence. How refreshing.
I will admit there were few surprises in the actual plot. I had strong suspicions (which proved correct) about the destinations of multiple subplots, but the journeys to those destinations were anything but predictable. However, for a character-driven reader, such as myself, this book was a feast of fat leavings. I identified strongly with Juliet and enjoyed every member of the society, their detractors, and the other ancillary people in her life—even the ones I didn’t like.
So thank you, LK, for the loan of this book. I truly enjoyed my time spent with the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and only wish that I could become a member.