Tuesday, March 15, 2011
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
I've just finished reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I read it in the space of about 36 hours. It was so good, I have just started it again.
I'll set the scene for anyone who hasn't read it: it's London in 1946, and journalist and author Juliet Ashton is searching for her next literary subject. A lauded author of wartime tales, she wants to write something more personal rather than the funny quips her alter ego Izzy Bickerstaff pens for The Spectator, a London paper. The inspiration comes to her when she receives a letter from a man she has never met. By chance, Guernsey resident Dawsey Adams has come into possession of a book Juliet once owned and he writes to her to ask her assistance in finding out more information about the author of the book she once owned.
Based on their mutual love of literature and more specifically, the writer Charles Lamb, they exchange numerous letters and Dawsey starts to tell her about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. This society was formed - almost by accident, or perhaps fate - during the Nazi occupation of the island of Guernsey during WWII. Its members are a varied and eccentric bunch of people with interesting personal stories.
Juliet's correspondence with Dawsey eventually extends to all members of the society. Through these letters she learns about the island, it's inhabitants, their intense war-time experiences and the books they love. Entranced by their stories, Juliet decides to make the journey to Guernsey and meet them all in person, not realising that this decision will change her life forever and for the better.
The entire book is written in letter form, mostly between Juliet and the members of the society, her best friend Sophie and Sophie's brother Sidney who is also Juliet's publisher. I have heard from others that they found this letter format quite tedious, however I really enjoyed it. With each new letter, a new nugget of information, a precious new jewel, is revealed. It's a very gentle and interesting way to structure a novel and with the beauty of the words and language it really works. The authors, Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece Annie Barrows, capture the essence of the time beautifully.
I won't ruin the ending of the book for anyone but suffice to say I was glad that it finished the way it did. There was a sense of symmetry and fate about the book's culmination - an idea that everything is pre-destined in some way. That a simple letter can bring together a group of people whose lives are made better by each other.
This book is beautiful. It is well written and elegant. The characters all have their own way or writing or speaking. It's lovely and passionate and gorgeous. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I adored it.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is available from Dymocks for $23.99, Book Depository for $12.70 and on Kindle from Amazon for $7.64.