PAPERBACK; 248 P. BLOOMSBURY, 2009/2007 SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY
It’s 1946 and author Juliet Ashton can’t think what to write next. Out of the blue, she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams of Guernsey – by chance, he’s acquired a book that once belonged to her, and, spurred on by their mutual love of reading, they begin a correspondence. When Dawsey reveals that he is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Juliet’s curiosity is piqued and it’s not long before she begins to hear from other members. As letters fly back and forth with stories of life in Guernsey under the German Occupation, Juliet soon realises that the society is every bit as extraordinary as its name.
This book has been around for a while now, but it still seems to be one of those undiscovered gems of historical fiction. I’ve seen Alexandra from Diverses & Avariées among others recommend The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and spotting this book with an intriguing monster of a title on my library’s shelves, I picked it up. Based on the synopsis at the back, I was expecting a light read with historical fiction elements, but I didn’t expect to be so enthralled by it. There have been news that the film adaptation rights have been sold, but the actual production is currently postponed. Nevertheless, should the story ever reach the theaters, it’s always best to read the book first, right?
The story of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society begins with the author Juliet Ashton who is touring the country to promote her book, a collection of humouristic columns written and published during the war. Despite the success of her writer persona, the happy-go-lucky Izzy Bickerstaff, Juliet feels uninspired to write. However, one day she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams who has somehow acquired her old copy of Charles Lamb’s writing. Dawsey, who is of Guernsey, praises Lamb’s writing, asks if Juliet could recommend him a bookseller who’d have more of his works, as he would like to talk more of Lamb in the meetings of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Intrigued by the surprising letter and the curiously named society, Juliet begins a correspondence with Dawsey and discovers the island that spent years under German Occupation.
The first thing that you notice about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is that it an epistolary novel – meaning it is told entirely by letters. This makes the story seem very personal and you soon get the sense of characters personality through the letters that they exchange. Some letters are longer, describing a certain event or an appearance of a new person, others are small notes sent from house to house. There are small gaps between the letters, and you only find out about the events as they are told to other people. The style and the variety of characters provided an opportunity also for a larger exploration of life during WWII and the hardships, as well as small joys, that were experienced during those times.
I very much enjoyed the style of writing, and it definitely made me want to travel to Guernsey and to see the island myself. In the afterword, the author Mary Ann Shaffer explains her long-standing fascination of the small island, and reading the book, you certainly get a sense of the setting. The island of Guernsey is situated in the English Channel, technically closer to France than England, and it was the only English soil occupied by Germans in WWII. As I mentioned in my Bout of Books update, it is also the first Detour stop on my Reading England 2015 challenge. However, the story of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is very much about the people, and in that sense it’s very similar to The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I’d highly recommend this book to all the readers because of its extensive literary side plot, but also to people who enjoy WWII fiction with a heartwarming twist.
That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.