by Annie Barrows & Mary Anne Shaffer
Hardcover: 9780385340991, Dial (Random House), $22
Paperback: 9780385341004, Dial (Random House), $14
This post was originally published here in August 2008. It has been edited from its original version.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Doesn’t that make you want to take a big bite out of the book itself? What is this society? What’s Potato Peel Pie? Who is in it, how did it get started – so many questions come to mind when you read such a deliciously convoluted title.
The book is an epistolary novel (thank you to Emily Crowe for supplying me with that word), which means it is told entirely in the form of letters. I love this form of novel; it feels so much more intimate. You’re not just getting this tale, you’re reading the thoughts and feelings behind the actions. People feel so much freer and more able to put down on paper (in the form of letters) what they can’t, or won’t, verbally describe. If all the letters don’t actually describe the scenario, then they serve to tantalize you with glimpses of the plot and tease you into reading more.
The letters are all to, from, or about Ms. Juliet Ashton, the central character in this novel. She is a writer by trade, so her letters are wonderfully descriptive, yet always leave you wanting to read more. She receives a letter from a man on the island of Guernsey. He had purchased a book written by Charles Lamb, which had been previously owned by Ms. Ashton. He writes to say he enjoyed this first taste of Charles Lamb and wonders if she would be able to help him in procuring more works of similar literary quality and merit.
Ms. Ashton beings writing with Mr. Dawsey Adams (the man who wrote her), and is thus introduced to the society he is apart of – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The current year being 1946, people are still recovering and rebuilding their lives from the devastation of World War II. This society was begun during the German occupation of the Channel Islands, of which Guernsey is a part. Soon Juliet is corresponding with many of the members of this society, slowly uncovering the stories of German wartime occupation – the love, loss, friendship, and courage that occurred on this isolated island during the war – and getting a first-hand look at what that means in her own life.
No part of this book disappoints. I wanted to rush through it to see how and what happens, but I wanted it to never end. Also, it’s a very sweet and sad story about how the book came to be. Mary Ann Shaffer was writing this novel when she unexpectedly passed away. Her niece, Annie Barrows, a famous children’s author (she wrote the Ivy & Bean books), finished the novel for her. It became a success, because how could it not, but is so bittersweet due to the loss of its original author.
Fans of The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, and/or Letters from an Age of Reason by Nora Hague will love this book as well. This is the perfect summer read.