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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: A Novel Hardcover – July 29, 2008
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“Treat yourself to this book, please—I can’t recommend it highly enough.”—Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love
“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb. . . .
As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.
Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.
Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.
Praise for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society
“A jewel . . . Poignant and keenly observed, Guernsey is a small masterpiece about love, war, and the immeasurable sustenance to be found in good books and good friends.”—People
“A book-lover’s delight, an implicit and sometimes explicit paean to all things literary.”—Chicago Sun-Times
“A sparkling epistolary novel radiating wit, lightly worn erudition and written with great assurance and aplomb.”—The Sunday Times (London)
“Cooked perfectly à point: subtle and elegant in flavour, yet emotionally satisfying to the finish.”—The Times (London)
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From Bookmarks Magazine
Copyright 2008 Bookmarks Publishing LLC
- ASIN : 0385340990
- Publisher : The Dial Press (July 29, 2008)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 288 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1741751683
- ISBN-13 : 978-1741751680
- Lexile measure : 930L
- Item Weight : 14.9 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.75 x 1.05 x 8.55 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #91,855 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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I’ve always had to wonder when I read a novel comprised entirely of letters. I think, well, it’s either going to be very, very good or will peter out after the second chapter and become tedious, repetitive, and boring.
I’m happy to say that “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer falls definitely into the former and not the latter category. It is very, very good, and (if I had to assess why) it’s because Shaffer tells a story and stays in command of the story to the very end. And the story itself is a dramatic one and based upon a recent historic event – the occupation of the Channel Islands by the German army during World War II.
The Channel Islands lie just off the coast of France but have allegiance to Great Britain. Technically, they are not part of Great Britain, but their inhabitants sound (to an American ear) as British as any Briton. They were owned by Duke William of Normandy, who retained ownership after he invaded and won Britain in 1066.
Because of the proximity to France, the British Army and Navy couldn’t defend the islands, so they became as much German-occupied territory as France and the rest of Europe. Their people were treated much the same as the rest of Europe. Which means very badly indeed.
But it’s now 1946, and writer Juliet Ashton, fresh from a rather surprising success as the author of a collection of her funny wartime columns for the Spectator, is casting about for a new project. She’s previously written a biography of Anne Bronte, which wasn’t exactly a bestseller. So, the success of her collection of columns is welcome news indeed.
Juliet receives a letter from a Guernsey resident named Dawsey Adams, a pig farmer interested in, of all things, the 19th century writer Charles Lamb. He has come to own a book of Lamb’s writings originally owned by Juliet (her name and former London address – bombed by a V2 rocket late in the war – is written in the inside cover. She begins a correspondence with Mr. Adams, and soon finds herself writing to other members of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a reading group formed rather hurriedly (as in, on the spot) when the Germans found a group of Guernsey residents out after curfew.
In London, Juliet finds herself being amorously and rather relentlessly pursued by a wealthy American, but she isn’t sure if she’s interested or not. So a trip to Guernsey is just the ticket to work on a book and escape the would-be lover. And it is on Guernsey that Juliet discovers but never meets the founder of the society, Catherine McKenna, whose story becomes a story of the war, how people survived the occupation, and how they didn’t.
Shaffer, who worked as an editor and librarian and also in bookshops, died in 2008. The novel was completed by her niece, Annie Barrows, the author of the “Ivy & Bean” and other children’s stories and the novel “The Truth According to Us” (2015). And while I want to tell you that you always want to see an author enjoy a well-deserved success, there is something about all of this that fits the author’s story and the story she tells.
“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” will make you laugh and make you cry. You will be struck silent at times. You will see how people cope in horrible circumstances, and what they to do help (and hurt) each other. And you will learn the difference books can make (including being used for kindling, but that’s another story for another letter).
Oh, before I forget, the book’s been made into a movie of the same title, coming soon (I hope) to a theater near you! It stars Lily James (of Downton Abbey and Darkest Hour fame) as Juliet, and there are several other Downton Abbey stars in it.
Sincerely and with warm regards,
Pigs end up playing a major role in this wonderful little book when the author connects with some villagers on Guernsey Island, who have recently emerged from German occupation during World War II. She learns how they outsmarted the Germans, who were fussy over farm animals, according to one explanation of how The Guernsey Literary Society came about in the first place. Spoiler alert: it was because of pigs.
Their mischievous pig roast compelled them to keep up appearances as the literary society they indeed were not. Yet, as one of the inciters of the pig roast writes, “Once two members read the same book, they could argue, which was our great delight.” Their original naughtiness eventually morphed into a sweet band of friends who “read books, talked books, argued over books, and became dearer and dearer to one another.”
The characters are vivid and easy to love, like the characters in Foyle’s War and 84 Charring Cross Road, carrying on despite the undertow of war rumbling beneath them. The writing delighted me, because so much of it made the familiar, ordinary things of life fresh and beautiful and fun (like when the author confesses really like to leave London to live on Guernsey instead). She writes, “The only thing I’d truly miss about London are Sidney and Susan, the nearness to Scotland, new plays, and Harrods Food Hall.” Refreshing: a little bit naughty, a little bit spice. My favorite line in the whole book is her contention that, “Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books.”
I consider it a compliment to say that this was such a good book, it may have ruined me for whatever one’s next!
I would say the vast majority of my disappointment comes from the story-though-a-bunch-of-letters format of the book. I HATE this format. I find it hard to follow, dependent on "telling" not "showing" and frankly just downright annoying.
I dont think the story itself was bad...though it was hard to get emotionally invested because you didnt really know why Juliet took to Kit so quickly - other than she said she did - or even really why she had feelings for Dawsey.
I will say after reading this I'm more impressed with the netflix movie because they did a good job of actually making it flow like a story instead of this mess of disjointed letters.
Top reviews from other countries
I’m not going to say anymore as I don’t want to spoil anything. But please, if you enjoy an entertaining novel, give this one a try. I loved it!
Dawsey Adams owns a farm and likes the writings of Charles Lamb. This is a theme of the book that everyone has a favourite author. For Isola she talks to Juliet of her biography of Anne Bronte. Eben, a tombstone carver, likes Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Dickens. Clovis wants to learn poetry to impress a lady and looks to Catullus a Roman Poet and the war poetry of Wilfred Owen. John Brooker who takes on the persona of his employer Tobias Penn-Piers, reads the letters of Seneca. The founder of the society is Elizabeth, who we never see as she is captured and sent to a prisoner of war camp. Dawsey tells the reader how during the war the Germans confiscated all food provisions including any livestock. When Mrs Maugery calls him and tells him she has a pig and bring a butcher’s knife they gather the neighbour’s and have a feast. Coming home after curfew a little worse for wear they are caught by the Germans who demand to know where they have been. Elizabeth proclaims they have been at the inaugural meeting of the literary society. They had been reading Elizabeth and her German Garden, a book which I’m sure doesn’t exist, but placated the guards.
In part one Juliet remains in the UK and the letters are sent back and forth. She also gains an admirer in the form of Markham Reynolds, a suave, intelligent American who sends her flowers and takes her out to dinner. Their relationship reaches a crunch point when he asks her to marry him and she is not sure. When she travels to Guernsey we see his more controlling side. This is a beautiful contrast to the simplicity and unassuming nature of the islanders.
Each character has their own use of language and some are more opinionated than others. Adele Addison disapproves of Elizabeth due to her liaison with a German Officer, but Remy who resides in the detainment camp with her speaks of her courage. Isola speaks of men being more interesting in books than in real life and is dismayed someone has not introduced her to Jane Austen. Dawsey is portrayed as not very well educated, especially when contrasted with Juliet’s American suitor, but he still reads Charles Lamb.
Witty and engaging this is a beautiful easy read, celebrating the courage of an island through the eyes of its residents and the curiosity of a writer. What makes this more poignant is the fact that the author died before the final edit and it was her niece that completed the book.
After an hour or so reading, I felt that I knew the characters and was hooked. Alongside the deprevations of war, the cruelty in the concentration camps and the duplicity of a few traitorous locals selling information to the Germans for favours, there is much humour and a slowly emerging love story.
Nice is not a nice word, but very occasionally it is exactly the right word. This is a nice book.
I only purchased this book because of the title - it intrigued me - then shortly after purchasing I saw a trailer for the movie so figured I'd better move it up my "to be read" list. I wasn't aware that this was an epistolary novel on purchasing and this did throw up a couple of issues for me - not the nature of the reading or the layout of the book, but rather the fact that the only distinct voice was that of Juliet. The letters to her from all other sources do not have a sufficiently distinct "voice" to make the book really work; the one exception being Adelaide Addison and even then you can still feel the author(s) beneath the words.
What the format does do very well is give you a sense of time and place that the events are unfolding in. It also allows multiple threads to unfold at the same time without ever really blurring them in to each other. I did feel in places that 21st Century morality had been superimposed on to the year immediately post the second world war (this was particularly true in the case of how one character's homosexuality was dealt with). On the whole the time period did feel generally realistic and Juliet Ashton makes for an exceptionally likeable protagonist.
What the authors have done well is to gently introduce us to themes and ideas without beating us over the head with them. The overarching thread is one that deals with the German Occupation of Guernsey and the privations suffered by the Islanders at the time. This gently unfolds in the form of letters to Juliet from first Dawsey Adams and then a complete avalanche from the other members of the Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society, each giving their experience of the Occupation and how the books they read helped them through and brought them together as a community.
It is a rich book that I enjoyed but somehow I felt a little let down by it all in the end. I would recommend it to another reader but it doesn't make my re-read list.
It's probably not a true story but will be part truths about things that really happened at that time. This is being made into a film with big name actors shortly, so get a heads up on it now