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.