This is one of those books that's outside my typical reading taste, but because people are so passionately fond of it, I thought I'd give it a try. Having only skimmed the plot-revealing portion of reviews, I had no idea what to expect when I started reading (or listening, in this case, as I checked the audio version out of the library - which was and still is, not surprisingly, on a waiting list).
The story is told through a series of letters (along with a few journal entries), and while at first I was a bit confused about who each character was (with audio books you can't quickly flip a page or two to check something), between the different readers' distinctive voices and the distinct voices of the letters themselves, I was quickly pulled into the story and things became clear.
The book is set in the late 1940s, in the aftermath of the war. The protagonist is Juliet, author of a humorous newspaper column that became very popular during the war, as it helped raise people's spirits during such a difficult time. Now that the war is over, however, she has decided to do write a book about something different, but she's having difficulty deciding on a topic that truly interests her.
When a letter arrives from out of the blue from a Mr. Dawsey Adams, who lives on the island of Guernsey, a whole new world opens up to Juliet as she begins corresponding with him, and then many of his friends, all of whom belong to the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. She learns about their experiences during the war, when the island was occupied by the Germans, and an article about the literary society is only the beginning.
I hesitate to say any more about what happens, as it is a joy to watch everything unfold through the letters of Juliet, her friends, and the people of Guernsey. The letters paint a vivid portrait of each character and their fascinating relationships with each other, bringing them to life so that I came to care a great deal about all of them. (Well, except for one or two, but I doubt I was supposed to like those particular characters.) It is a wartime book, and dreadful things happen, but in the end the story is an affirmation of life. When the book ended I had that bittersweet feeling you get when you finish a particularly wonderful book: delight in the story and characters and sadness at having to say goodbye.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows; read by Paul Boehmer, Susan Duerden, Rosalyn Landor, John Lee and Juliet Mills (Books on Tape, 2008)
Also reviewed at:
Bermudaonion's Weblog: "This book is charming and delightful. It made me want to visit Guernsey and made me miss the art of letter writing."
Diary of an Eccentric: "Each letter was written in the distinctive voice of a single character, yet put together, they created a rich picture of loss, survival, and joy experienced by the people of Guernsey under Nazi rule."
It's All About Me (Time): "The comments on the back cover say that you won't want it to end and it's true. I now want to visit Guernsey and I will be very, very disappointed if the characters from this book don't live there!"