A novel presented as a collection of letters, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, artfully pieces together the story of a small Channel Island town during the German Occupation of WWII, and the creation of what we now refer to as a book club.
It all started when Miss Juliet Dawson, an author living in London, received a letter from Mr. Dawsey Adams of Guernsey. He had in his possession an old book of hers, which had her name and address written inside the front cover. Dawsey loved the book so much he felt compelled to write to Juliet to find out more about the author. What started out as a single request turned into a correspondence and a life of something else I can't quite explain.
Juliet writes back to Dawsey: "I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. how delightful if that were true."
Don't you just love that?
Juliet and Dawsey were quickly joined in their correspondence by other members of the Guernsey Literary Society, among many others, writing letters over the course of nine months. Somewhere I have seen the number of characters introduced in this book, and it seemed overwhelming to me at first, but rest assured there really are only 4 or 5 main characters, with the supporting characters adding their own bit of insight, humor and levity. Then there is Elizabeth, who holds the whole book together. I can't talk about Elizabeth, though, because doing so might spoil this book for someone and I wouldn't dare do that. Oh, she feels so real to me!
Sprinkled throughout the letters, in between the stories of the Occupation and the goings-on of Guernsey, are the letter-writers' love of books (or lack thereof), which both touched me and often made me laugh aloud. Too many to quote all of them, but here is one of my favorites:
"We clung to books and to our friends; they reminded us that we had another part to us."
Imagine finding a dusty old box of letters from 1946 in your grandmother's attic. This is how I felt reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. These characters were so real to me. I laughed with them, I cried with them, and I absolutely fell head over heels in love with them. I would read a letter, stick my bookmark in the page and just live with these people, dream about them. A day has not gone by where I haven't thought about this book. I have been carrying these characters around with me since I turned the last page.
In this day of e-mails, text messages, and skyping, reading this epistolary novel made me want to dig into my rarely used engraved stationary and write a nice long letter.
Check out Random House's Guernsey Page for excerpts, readers guides, and more.
Annie Barrow's website.
Watch co-author Annie Barrows talk about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society:
About the Book:
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Random House Reader's Circle)
Paperback: 290 pages
Publisher: Dial Press Trade Paperback; 1st Thus. edition (May 5, 2009)
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