Monday, October 19, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society --- Mary Anne Shaffer

It's quite a while since I've done a book review but I could not resist writing about this one. It was the last book we read for the Short Book Club and while it has been around for a while all but one of us had missed it. Probably the name was a bit off-putting! But one member's recommendation was so enthusiastic that we chose it for our seventh anniversary meeting.

Yes, seven years ago in the Fall, we met for dinner at our convener's house for the first time and recently every single one of us were there for this meeting, although we had no idea until that night that it was our seven year anniversary.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society*
by Mary Ann Shaffer is an epistolary novel, one written in the form of letters. While not much in favour these days, it seems just the right format for this delightful novel, although it can be a bit confusing at times since there are many letter writers contributing to the whole.

Set in 1946, in the days just after the Second World War, the book commences as Juliet Ashton, a thirtyish author, writes to her publisher bemoaning her lack of ideas for a new book and also wanting to write about something completely different. She receives a letter from a farmer on Guernsey with a query and an exchange of letters begins. He tells her about the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a rudimentary sort of book club and describes how the whole thing began during the German occupation of that island. Other members of the society begin to correspond with her, narrating their wartime stories and the idea for a new book is born.

Through these letters the reader not only gets to know the various characters and "characters " they really are, but also the realities of the German occupation are revealed little by little. Of course Juliet must go to Guernsey to meet these people and thus we see them first hand in her letters to others. To my mind, their stories, along with her own, are carefully interwoven most successfully using this format and revealed little by little. While being quite informative the whole book has a very delightful, warm charming feeling, despite the often depressing reality of the years of the occupation and the post war situation. This book delivers a touch of romance, some sadness and some humour, along with a lot of information and a satisfying conclusion. What more can one ask of a novel read for entertainment?

I am sure that most everyone has already read this book, but if not I can highly recommend it and my copy has already been passed on.

* Annie Barrows, Mary Ann Shaffer's niece completed the book after the author's death.


Moggs Tigerpaw said...

I think it is lovely that the niece got it to publication.

Otherwise it may never have been finished and you would have missed out on what it seems was a real pleasure and the author's efforts lost.

Liz said...

Yes, I loved it too and have given it as a present to several people. (And I rarely do that as individual tastes are so different.)

Smalltown RN said...

I have never read nor heard of this book...but after I read the stack that is on my side table I think I just might make a trip to the library....

lady macleod said...

I have not read this novel, glad to have a recommendation but the title certainly caught my eye! My father's name was Guernsey Island C*** V. I just missed out on the family name by being female. My Dad was 6'5" tall so I can assure you that everyone called him "G.I." and NO ONE called him Guernsey Island! I believe that our family some very, very long time ago had some association with that piece of real estate.

Ellee Seymour said...

It's been a long time since I've read a book, let alone written a book review. It's always on my New Year's list, but there is always something more important to do...

Sean Jeating said...

Ah, its title in English is much much better - i.e. making curious - than the one the German publisher chose: Deine Juliet (Yours Juliet).
Enjoyed this, jmb.

CherryPie said...

I have to shamefully admit I hadn't heard of the book. From your review it does sound like something I would enjoy though :-)

CherryPie said...

PS: the title would have put me off too!

jmb said...

It was fortunate Miss Moggs. I hope you get to enjoy it too.

I think most people would enjoy it Liz and I am sure your friends will too.

I am sure you would like it Mary Anne. I thought everyone had read it save me.

Lucky you Lady Mac. What a handle.

Well you are a busy lady Ellee, even writing your own book!

How unimaginative you Germans are Sean. But surely concise and it does convey something. However not all the letters were written by Juliet so it is misleading. :)

CherryPie I would have thought everyone in the UK would have read it. You will enjoy its quiet charm I'm sure.

Thanks for visiting and commenting everyone.

maryt/theteach said...

jmb, I'm sure you remember me, maryt/theteach, we used to correspond quite a bit with comments on postings. How we lost touch I don't know but I saw your name at Elaine Ling's blog and thought I'd drop by. Thank you for the review. I'll keep the book in mind definitely! :)

campaigns3 said...


We've created a Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society Google Map for your readers. Every comment from that includes a geographic location or mention of place is either pinned or marked. Hope this is of use to you readers.

If you have any feedback please submit a review and we will take on board your comments. All in its early stages at the moment