The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
The Dial Press, 274 pages
“ 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.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows was another one of those books where I had no idea what it was about, except that some of the bloggers I followed loved this book. I am easily swayed like that, and it helped that I got my copy from a secondhand bookstore, so splurging on the hardcover version isn’t that painful. After my fantasy filled June and a few more books in between, I needed something new to read, something that I don’t normally read. So I picked this from my shelf and dove into it without really knowing what it was about.
Juliet Ashton is a writer and she’s looking for ideas for her next book. She’s in a rut, and she doesn’t know what to write until she receives a curious letter from a man she’s never met who found her address in a book by Charles Lamb that somehow landed in the island of Guernsey. This starts a correspondence between her and several people in the island who form The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a spur-of-the-moment book club that used to be an excuse from German soldiers for several people who were caught outside after curfew and then became a genuine group of literature lovers. Julie learns about the island and the people through their letters, until she finally sets off to Guernsey to meet them for herself, not knowing that this journey will changer her life forever.
I was just 8 pages into the book when I fell in love with Julie’s character — she’s a smart and charming woman with little quirks that make her not like anyone else. I like her voice, and it was a pleasure reading her letters to her friends and the people she “met” in Guernsey. I particularly like the background check done about her, and how contrasting these two letters were! Julie was such a darling that I wanted to receive a letter from her after I was done with the book. The other characters were lovely, too, although they may seem a bit too sweet and nice sometimes, but by the time I realized that, I was too invested in the book to really think that people this nice and charming couldn’t possibly exist.
Speaking of the letters, they were so engrossing that I often forget that this book was set shortly after WWII, and they were correspondences that takes days before it gets delivered. It reminded me of those days when my childhood friend and I would send letters to each other — it often takes 2 weeks before the letters get delivered, and it was enough to gather enough stories to fill the next letter, on top of the reply from the last one I received. I remember being very excited to receive my letters, and how I would read and reread them when I need comfort, or simply when I just feel bored. Who still takes the time to write letters nowadays? Long emails are lovely in their own right, but it’s just not the same.
The best part of the book, I think, is the idea of how books drew people together. I loved reading about how the little group in Guernsey was formed, and how they all became friends even if they don’t read the same books at all. It was just timely that I was reading this book right before our book club’s 7th face to face discussion, which proved to be a very sentimental one for all of us, with the production of our club’s very own collection of stories. Our July discussion was also my 2nd year anniversary of being with the book club, which made the event a bit more special for me. I was assigned to give the opening remarks for the event, and I was glad that I was reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society because it had that one quote that summed up most of what I feel towards the people I have become good friends with in our book club:
None of us had any experience with literary societies, so we made our own rules: we took turns speaking about the books we’d read. At the start, we tried to be calm and objective, but that soon fell away, and the purpose of the speakers was to goad the listeners into wanting to read the book themselves. Once two members had read the same book, they could argue, which was our great delight. We read books, talked books, argued over books, and became dearer and dearer to one another…our evenings together became bright, lively times – we could almost forget, now and then, the darkness outside.
No doubt about it — there’s a certain magic when books bring people together. I think anyone who’s ever been a part of a book club, or have had bookish friends can relate to that. :) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows is a lovely, lovely book about books and reading and how it brings people together from wherever they are in the world. :)
My copy: hardbound, bought from Book Sale