Book Reviews

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

guernsey

I hopped on the feel good train for a quick little respite in the pages of this book. Told in an  epistolary style by Mary Anne Shaffer and finished by her daughter Annie Barrows, this book tells the tale of Juliet Ashton, 33 and emerging with the rest of the world into a post WWII land. Through random chance, a man on the English island of Guernsey acquirers a book once belonging to her, and finds her name and address written within. What begins is a correspondence between Juliet and the people of Guernsey that will lead her away from home and into the arms of a small, tight-knit community that spent five years under Nazi occupation.

Guernsey, a self-governing island off the coast of England with an excellent Google rating of 4.6 stars and the unfortunate status of being the only part of England to be occupied by Nazi’s. It is here our heroine, Juliet Ashton, is drawn by the promise of a fascinating story. At the tale end of a publicity circuit for her latest book, she’s on the hunt for something new to write about, and when an unexpected letter arrives addressed to her from a pig farmer on Guernsey, she’s intrigued enough to continue the correspondence.

She finds more then what she expected, and the tale of the resilience and bravery that happened within the huts and homes of Guernsey is enough to convince her to leave London behind and meet these people in the flesh.

Juliet Ashton is 33 and real talk, it was nice reading about someone the same age as me. She’s clever and eccentric, with a love and respect for books and stories that occasionally puts her at odds with those who would have her attentions focused elsewhere. I loved that she recognized her own flaws and shortcomings, and even went so far as to ask someone who didn’t like her if they could write a letter of recommendation so that people could see both sides of her personality.

“I am a grown woman– mostly– and I can guzzle champagne with whomever I choose.”

We meet most of the supporting cast through the letters Juliet receives in response. And through their stories we learn of the horror and triumphs of war, the sacrifices and small acts of compassion that kept these people alive and hopeful. Don’t let the cute title mislead you overmuch, while there is plenty of silly situations and quirky characters, there is also the ghost of WWII looming over the story. The atrocities are not shied away from, they’re right there, side by side with the good, just as they were during that time.

“We clung to books and to our friends; they reminded us that we had another part to us.”

The cast is varied and eccentric; my personal favorite was Isola, a potion making, self-professed witch with a pet goat and parrot.

“Isola doesn’t approve of small talk and believes in breaking the ice by stomping on it.”

I love small town narratives like this, where the townspeople bring to life the world around them through their interactions with it. Despite being told through a series of letters, I felt like I knew their homes and lands as well as a more typical writing style may have shown.

I especially loved how the author showed how varied the experience and love of books can be. From people who read only one genre or author exclusively, to those who go for a particular feel, to the rest of us who just devour everything in sight. So often a character would describe what read was like for them, what it meant to them, and how it changed their lives, and I loved that.

This was such an easy read that I have few caveats with it. I never felt like the authors were overreaching themselves and all the situations Juliet finds herself in were believable and usually pretty hilarious. The hints of blossoming romance were never heavy handed and didn’t detract from the main story, and I never felt overwhelmed by the number of characters.

“Think of it! We could have gone on longing for one another and pretending not to notice forever. This obsession with dignity can ruin your life if you let it.”

I was especially happy to find out two of the supporting cast were gay, it’s not something I see in WWII era stories, and it was a refreshing change to have them around in such a setting. I’d love to watch the movie, but I’ll have to do with when my husband is otherwise occupied, as I don’t want to listen to him question everything constantly, a trait I only find he exhibits when we’re watching movies I want to see. We can put on The Arrival and he’ll sush me for asking an actors name, but put on Northhanger Abbey and it’s all- “Who is she?” “Why did he do that?” “Where are they going?”  “What is muslin?”

Final Verdict: A quick read for anyone who likes books about people who love books. If you aren’t aware of some of the horrors of WWII, be warned, the descriptions get somewhat graphic, though it’s not as intense as it could be. A thoughtful and kind story, it puts me in mind of Chocolat, but with war rations instead of imported chocolate.

“All my life I thought that the story was over when the hero and heroine were safely engaged — after all, what’s good enough for Jane Austen ought to be good enough for anyone. But it’s a lie. The story is about to begin, and every day will be a new piece of the plot. ”

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