Friday, 16 December 2011

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Another book club reading, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary-Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows promised to be a nice, light, easy read.  Even though it's set in the after-WWII years, when people slowly start getting the lives back together, the style is not overly sad, and I think that would probably have been the sentiment among the survivors, where the only way is up...

I absolutely loved the method of narrating through exchange of letters and telegrams, if only for being able to read instalments without losing the context.  Even though this method can be considered dated, it does bring back happy memories, when people took the time to put their thoughts into paper - the use of language is very important and I feel that our time does not make enough use of this. (Could this story be told through texting?  I don't think so!). It's set in a very romantic environment, where people with destroyed houses are still looking to gather coupons to buy luxury items, and travel to nearby islands. 
The story of Guernsey itself I found most intriguing.  I would never have guessed that they, too, would be under occupation during the WWII, but I was wrong.  The description of children being sent away to the mainland and of islanders trying to make do with whatever was left does still provoke a nauseating feeling.  I was also surprised at the reality these islanders faced:  shunned by mainland Britain, occupied by Nazi Germany, they truly were left on their own to survive.   
Two twists in the story kept my interest up high throughout the book:  the reference to the Brontës, especially Anne (who is my favourite), and Oscar Wilde.  I just loved the fact that in a book that is meant to attract a modern audience, the main character has actually written a book on Anne Bronte and further makes comments on the whole family.  The whole incident was just too intriguing to miss.  And then the letters sent by Wilde to an islander?  Excellent trick - where there would just be a mediocre author trying to overcome a writer's block and an island that has no great interest, this book has managed to provide just enough spark to light up the story. The references also to other books and authors, courtesy of the island's literature society, also provide inspiration to look them up and read.

In reading about the book, I came across reviews by present-day islanders, who were not pleased about the depiction of the characters living there.  I have never been to Guernsey, but I've travelled to a lot of islands.  It is a fact that an island, because of its specific characteristic, is a microcosm that will include all the types of personalities one meets in a society - just in this case, they are all very close to each other.  I cannot say that it bothered me, or that I thought bad of the place - I am all too well aware that a balanced society will have to accommodate all types and make use of them.

Could this story find its way in our modern-day reality? Probably not.  Yet, this book shows the adventures of the common man, who, while not making headlines, proves to be as exciting under the surface as the known "celebrities".  And this should be an inspiration to all.


  1. Great post! You're right, that's what I love about letters in stories, we don't take the time to write our thoughts, find those perfect words, anymore. And how interesting about the reviews from islanders, I never would have thought to look those up! By the way, I just discovered your blog and love your style!

  2. This was one of my favorites of the year I read it on. The letter-style worked very well (by the way, have you read 84, Charing Cross Road? It's a MUST!). I was also very surprised that Guernsey was actually invaded!

    PS: Go Anne!




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