I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf for… I don’t even know how long, but definitely years. And it’s not like I didn’t know it would be good. I’d been told. Several times, and by a few different people whose opinions of books I trust. So I have no idea why I waited so long to finally pick it up, but in some ways I’m glad I did – it was great to discover something this wonderful that had been there all along. It was like I’d accidentally saved a treat for later.
This book is an epistolary novel (the second one I’ve read recently, completely by chance) and is told in the form of letters primarily between a young writer, Juliet Ashton, and a group of readers on Guernsey Island off the coast of England, known collectively as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The Society came across her by chance – one of them bought a secondhand book that had once belonged to her and had her name and address inscribed in it. He writes to Juliet to ask her if she might know where he could get more books by the author, seeing as the island bookstore is sadly depleted in stock. She writes back, putting him in touch with a London bookseller, and they begin corresponding. She finds inspiration in their stories of the war and ends up writing letters with several other members of the Society, and soon counts them all amongst her dearest friends.
What I loved most about this book was that it started off light and amusing, so I got lulled into a certain expectation for how it would progress. But as we get to know the characters on Guernsey, they share their experiences of being occupied during the war, and suddenly it becomes a very different story. It’s sad and horrifying and deeply evocative – surprisingly it’s one of the best descriptions of some of the events and challenges of the second world war I’ve read in a long time, and had a lot more depth than I’d expected from a book that at first glance seems like it will be an easy read. It also taught me a lot about an island I barely knew existed before reading this book. Though part of the U.K., Guernsey is on the eastern side, and was therefore closer to the occupied mainland of Europe. The U.K. wasn’t able to defend it without leaving the coast of England vulnerable, so it was left to fend for itself and was occupied by German forces. I won’t go into any details about what it was like during the occupation, because I think it’s actually better to go into it not really knowing what to expect. But it will definitely be an emotional experience.
Despite the very intense content of the wartime stories, there is also an amazing amount of love – of all shapes and forms – in this book. Though the characters had suffered indescribably, they had also come to care for one another in a way they might otherwise not have. It’s a perfect example of how a common enemy can really bring a group of disparate people together and turn them into family. It’s also an inspiring example of how books can bring people together – nearly all the relationships in this book have been brought about or deepened by books, and that undercurrent really touched my book-loving heart. Like I discussed in my post on Anne Frank’s diary the other day, this book reminded me that even in the very worst of times love, friendship and courage can still shine. In fact, sometimes adverse circumstances bring them to the fore.
I think this would be an excellent book to read in a book club – being about a literary society and also having so much varied and rich content. But even if you’re a solo reader, this is definitely worth your time. It will touch you, make you cry, make you nostalgic for a time you may or may not have known, and remind you to look for the best in people and hug those near you extra tight.
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. – Goodreads
Book Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Author: Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
Published By: Allen and Unwin
Released: June, 2009 (originally released July 29, 2008)
Genre: Fiction, History, Epistolary, Character-Driven, WWII
Date Read: June 12-14, 2017