Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

10 years ago

I don't have a litmus test for bad books. There are, however, definite signs of good books. If I find myself thinking that I should get up and find Post-It flags before I hit the twenty-five page mark it's probably going to be a good book. If after less than ten pages I find myself half tearing apart my office looking for my metal page points I know it is going to be a very good book. That is precisely the position I found myself in shortly after starting Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows' The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.

I had been warned that it was a good book. Before I started it I went into the office and warned my boyfriend that I was about to start a new book and if it was as good as everyone said it was he'd do best not to disturb me or try to pry me away from it unless he wanted a pillow thrown at his head for his efforts. I spent the afternoon being lost in this glorious story and I struggled with myself. The temptation to gulp the whole book down at once was overwhelming and battled with the feeling that I should tread slow and savour it. I was a kid eating an ice-cream cone trying to eat it slowly enough to enjoy but fast enough to stop the drips.

The Guernsey Literary and Pie Peel Society is a book that you get lost in. It's one of those rare books that the moment you start reading it you know that it is a favourite. Before I picked it up it had several things going in its favour. It's an epistolary novel and I have a soft spot for those. I kind of think of them as the blogs of the literary world and it they make me feel like I'm reading and snooping in someone's life with their permission.

The second thing that the book had going for it was that it is set in the WWII era. Technically speaking it's post-WWII but still set in the era of heavy rationing (rationing in post-WWII Britian was quite possibly worse than during the war). It reflects on so much that happened during WWII that if feels almost as if it was set then. Novels, biographies, memoirs and histories of this time frequently trap me inside their pages. I never fail to be impressed with individual's ability for courage, particularly their courage for hope.

And that's what the core of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is about about - the courage to hope, to love and to hope to love.

Juliet Ashton, aka Izzy Bickerstaff, is touring England talking about her collection of war time essays feeling the post-war-but-still-rationing blues and occasionally throwing teapots at the heads of unruly journalists. Then one day she receives a letter from a Mr. Dawsey Adams from Guernsey. He had by chance received a book that used to belong to her and had written her to see if they author had published any other books. The letter was the beginning of not one friendship but many for Juliet as Dawsey told her about the Guernsey Literarary and Potato Peel Society. She promptly became introduced to them through letters and started to wonder if there wasn't a book waiting to be written about the German occupation of the Channel Islands and heads over there to see and become part of their community.

It's a delightful novel, rich with historical details and wonderful characters that you come to love. Along the way it;s littered with rich descriptions about reading that leave you nodding to yourself. But don't take my word for her. Here's what other bloggers have to say about this book.

A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore calls it "utterly charming".

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is an utterly charming novel, written in an epistolary fashion, between not only Julia and her new friends, but her best friend from childhood and her brother (who also happens to be Juliet’s publisher).
[...]
Some of the stories told in this book are tragic; some are funny; but I guarantee that all of them will be touching.

Thoughts of Joy also called it a delightful book.

The book contains a well-rounded, distinct cast, descriptive scenery, and life - the good and the bad. They are all tied together with deep purpose and emotion. I loved the wit that Juliet would interject into her letters, producing a huge grin from me every time and the sincere, heart-felt words from all writing participants.

Lesa's Book Critiques is among many who believe the book would be an excellent choice for book clubs.

Book clubs will snatch up this novel. It's a short, charming book, but it's meaty in discussion material. How many people knew about the German occupation of Guernsey, or, really, anything about the island? The story has history, discussions of books, wit, letters by over twenty characters, and two interesting heroines. There's romance, suspense, tears and laughter.

You might want to keep a box of tissues close by. Like Read Warbler I found myself getting teary a time or two.

You become very involved in the lives of all of the characters, to the extent that it's almost impossible to stop reading; luckily, that's not a problem as the writing is very readable indeed. There's quite a bit of sadness in this book - I was close to tears several times - but an awful lot that is uplifting and optimistic as well.

At Lesley's Book Nook I found an echo to my own sentiments of not wanted to reach the end of the book and say goodbye to these lovely characters. Lesley goes on to lament that Mary Ann Schaffer never got to see her book in print.

I was also saddened to learn that Mary Ann Shaffer died in February at the age of 73. What a shame that she didn't live long enough to see her first published novel. I hope her niece (and co-author), Annie Barrows, continues to write, possibly with a follow-up to this wonderful story. It was a joy to read and one I'll return to in the coming years.

Jan at the Prytz Family Blog shed some light on the other author, Shaffer's niece Annie Burrows.

Annie Barrows has been published before. She is an established author of children’s books. If you have kids, you are probably familiar with her Ivy and Bean series, and her book The Magic Half; but The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is her first adult novel, and she co-authored it with her aunt Mary Ann Shaffer.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society will be making my Top Ten of 2008 list this year, quite possibly topping it. I'm restraining myself (barely) from ordering copies for every person I know. Get your hands on a copy and read it even if it's the only book you read this fall.

Contributing Editor Sassymonkey never found her page points but suspects they are hiding in the same black hole as her bookplates. She blogs at Sassymonkey and Sassymonkey Reads.

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