Book Review – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I am sure many of you have already read the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I know it was written in 2008 so I am very late to this party. Yet what a party it turns out to be.

But perhaps, like me, you didn’t read it in 2008 (I suddenly remember why I didn’t. I had two babies.)

Maybe you watched the movie? I recently did, and then decided to read the book, which is, of course, far more glorious than the film. And that’s not an insult to the film, the film is lovely. Particularly the Michiel Huisman bits. (I took a fancy to him in The Age of Adeline. But maybe you fell for him in Game of Thrones?) Anyway, he plays Dawsey, who might, in fact, be the new Darcy.

I also signed up for the Gauteng Provincial Government Library Service’s ebook offering. One writes in for a library card number, downloads the Libby by Overdrive App and there you are, in the virtual library. I don’t have a reliable tablet, so I read on my phone, which I am sure increases my wrinkle count as I squint at the small screen. But that is how I accessed the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society book, and let me tell you, it is worth all the wrinkles.

It was close. I almost didn’t borrow the book, because it is written by two people. Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. How can two people write a book? I can’t bear the thought of playing doubles tennis, let alone co-authoring a book.

So, before I borrowed the book, I googled the story behind the two-authored approach. It is as enthralling and as moving as the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society itself, a story of love, family and support. Read about it HERE

Okay, so back to the book. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is set after World War Two. It is an epistolary novel, i.e. it is told entirely through letters, between an author, Juliet Ashton, her publisher, his sister (her best friend), the publisher’s staff, her suitor, and a larger than life cast of eccentric and lovable characters from Guernsey who survived the Nazi occupation during World War Two. Including Dawsey. Lest I forget Dawsey.

The first thing I loved about this book, (after Dawsey) is the language and voice. It is beyond charming.

The next thing I loved is the way it is in told in letters, so cleverly layered, without a hiccup or a lull or an info dump.

The setting on Guernsey is evocative and the characters are real and funny and heartbreaking all at once. And the literary society, born of an excuse to avoid arrest after curfew by a German patrol, becomes a place of community, of support, of courage and of hope.

The horrors of war are shared, and we must bear them, so that we can pause, and reflect. However, the fortitude of the characters buoys us back up.

The book made me laugh, as the characters forge through difficult times with courage and humour and remarkable insights into human nature.

Juliet at one point says “Have you noticed there are some people…who seem untouched by the war or at least unmangled by it?”

She also refers to long term effects of war when she receives the news, in 1946, of someone’s wartime death.

‘The War goes on and on, doesn’t it?’

What I loved the most about this book is that it reminded me of the incredible value of all books, especially in dark times. It reminded me how books can transport one from a real world that often falls short of our ideals, into another one, one that enchants us and diverts us.

What better time to immerse oneself in reading than now, like the people of Guernsey did in their darkest hour, when we are feeling down: in isolation, pandemic, economic fall out and social upheaval.

As the author, Mary Ann Shaffer says in the acknowledgements,

“I hope too, that my book will illuminate my belief that love of art – be it poetry, storytelling, painting, sculpture, or music – enables people to transcend any barrier man has yet devised.”

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