Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

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!"

18 comments:

  1. I have heard nothing but good about this book, even sending it to Bookfool for her birthday (when asked which book she'd most like, this is the title she gave me). Personally, I don't automatically reach for novels written in letter form, but I can see I'm going to have to break down and read this.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I loved this book! I am glad that you liked it, too!

    And, yes, Bellezza you should read it. :) Trust Bookfool.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm glad you liked it! I enjoyed it so much - I had no idea that Guernsey had been occupied during the War, so that was fascinating for me. And I loved it how vivid Elizabeth was despite the fact that we never met her!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I was totally surprised by how this book affected me. I was moved...to laughter, to tears, to hope, to happy. I usually don't enjoy books on suffering, but this was so personal, warm and witty that it is now among my favorites.

    So glad to hear that you enjoyed it, too!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I picked this book up because I'd seen so many good reviews, but then I kept seeing more and more and I got about half intimidated and half burnt-out, so I haven't read it yet. :)

    Lovely review, though. I really should get over myself and read it... so many book bloggers can't all be wrong!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I haven't read this book either because I was afraid I would be dissappointed but you seem happy with it, so I'll go ahead and put my name on the wait list at the library : )
    I value your literary opinion.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I really, really need to read this one soon. Thanks for the review!

    ReplyDelete
  8. This was one of my top 3 reads of last year. I still get really pleased when I see that other people have discovered ths little gem of a book.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I absolutely adored this one and am glad you did too.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Bellezza - I do think you'd enjoy this - as would most book bloggers, I think, since much of the book is about books and the impact they have on our lives. I hope you'll give it a chance! :-)

    Kailana - Thanks, Kailana. It's one of those that I know I will revisit one day, just so I can spend some time with the characters again.

    Jenny - I'm glad you liked it too, and I had no idea about the occupation either. That whole thing about sending the children off for so many years breaks my heart every time I think about it. :-(

    Fuzzycricket - I'm usually the same way, and had I known war and concentration camps were part of this book, I might have shied away. But I'm so glad I didn't! It did have difficult parts, but the wonderful parts more than made up for it - and were made more wonderful because of the hard parts, if that makes any sense.

    Fyrefly - It's true, the build-up for this one is astronomical at this point. It's one of the reasons I picked up the audio version, honestly - I was worried about dedicating my precious actual reading time, but my worries were unfounded. It's just so quietly wonderful; I can't imagine you'll be let down. I'll be looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

    Virginia Gal - Well, thanks! That is such a nice compliment! I do think you'll enjoy it, and I can't wait to hear what you think. :-)

    Stephanie - Oh, I hope you'll get to read it soon. I think you'll love it as much as I did!

    Marg - I can certainly see why it was one of your top reads of last year - I'm sure it will be one of mine for this year!

    Cath - Thanks - I'm glad you enjoyed it too.
    :-)

    ReplyDelete
  11. Glad to hear you liked this book, too. Thanks so much for linking to my review. Could I post a link to yours on War Through the Generations?

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

    ReplyDelete
  12. Anna - Absolutely! That would be great. Thanks! :-)

    ReplyDelete
  13. I've read so much positive words about this book. I'm waiting for this book to get to me via Amy's Guernsey traveling society :D

    ReplyDelete
  14. Ladybug - How fun! I hope you enjoy it when it gets to you. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  15. Thanks, Darla. I posted a link here.

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

    ReplyDelete
  16. Anna - Thanks for including a link to my post. That collection of WWII books is a fabulous resource! I have a feeling I'll be turning to it a lot when I'm working on the reference desk. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  17. Thank you! I'm happy you think it's useful. We've been spending a lot of time on it.

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

    ReplyDelete
  18. Anna - I can tell! It's marvelous. I'm so pleased to be included. :-)

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment!