Tuesday, 4 January 2011
CBR3 Book 1: "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Page count: 256 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars
Date begun: January 1st, 2011
Date finished: January 4th, 2011
Juliet Ashton is travelling around Britain in 1946, promoting her wildly popular book Izzy Bickerstaff Goes to War, a collection of humorous newspaper columns written all through the Second World War. She is trying to come up with a topic for her next novel, and having very little luck. One day, she receives a letter from a man in Guernsey, who's ended up with a book she once owned, telling her interesting things about something called the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, founded quite accidentally during the war. Juliet is fascinated by the story of its founding, and is soon corresponding not only with Dawsey Adams, who wrote her the first letter, but with a number of diverse members of the Literary Society.
As she continues to travel around, talking up her last book, being wined and dined and wooed by a wealthy American publishing magnate, she keeps getting letters from the members of the Society at Guernsey, and learning more and more about both the society, and life for the people of Guernsey during the war. She makes a number of dear friends, and decides to travel to the little island to do research for a possible new book, all about the German Occupation of Guernsey.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was written by Mary Ann Shaffer, but finished by her niece Annie Barrows after Shaffer became very ill after the manuscript was sold to a number of publishers, and unable to edit and finish it herself. It is an epistolary novel, the entire narrative is made up of letters. Letters from Juliet to Sophie, her best friend, who is married to a Scotsman and living in Oban. To Sidney, Juliet's publisher and Sophie's older brother. To and from Dawsey Adams, Amelia Maugery, Eben Ramsey, Isola Pribby and other members of the Literary Society, and through the various letters we get to know Juliet, Sidney and all the rich and complex characters of Guernsey, as well as the fascinating story of how the Literary Society was founded to cover up a secret roast pig dinner from the Germans. All the letters have very distinct voices, and although there are a number of characters to keep track of, I never found it difficult to follow the plot or keep the people apart, as they have such distinctive personalities and writing styles.
The book is in turns very funny, delightfully quirky and at times deadly serious and very sad. Mary Ann Shaffer did a lot of research on Guernsey during the Second World War, and the Occupation was not an easy one. While the book is a work of fiction, it is based on real event and inspired by real people, and while for the most part I was smiling broadly while reading, certain parts also brought tears to my eyes and nearly had me crying. It's not a very long book, but very well written, and the impression that you get the privilege of peeking at other people's personal correspondence made it a somewhat different, but very pleasant reading experience.