Book Review: The Guernsey Literary Society and Potato Peel Pie Society

guernsey

The Guernsey Literary Society and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

“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.”

I haven’t read many books this year. I have started quite a few, but not sure I have finished any of them (unless you count textbooks and literature for homeschool, which would bump the number up a bit).

I had forgotten how much I loved reading and enjoyed literature until I joined a new group on facebook, The ME/CFS Book Club. It’s now one of my favourite places online, and certainly my favourite facebook group.

This book was one of their monthly reads and although I am running behind, I decided to get it because the title was so intriguing.

It ended up being the best book I read this year, it was probably the only book that made me enthusiastically want to read it to completion, and I laughed and cried and felt deeply invested in the characters’ lives all the way through it.

It is written in the form of a series of letters, between a young writer, Juliet Ashton, her publisher and friends, and members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society after a Mr Dawsey Adams contacts her about a book of hers by Charles Lamb that had found its way into his possession, and she becomes intrigued about the society’s unusual name.

The setting is post-war London and Guernsey, and the letters convey the story of the German Occupation of Guernsey during the war, the grief, sorrows and anguish as well as the joy and adventures of the eccentric islanders during that time, and the friendships forged through their common experience of war, and the beauty of literature that makes the increasingly brutal occupation bearable.

I loved the lively way the letters were written, the post-war British voices rang surprisingly true considering the authors were American. It was quite unlike anything I have read in a long time.

The ending is surprising and beautiful, with unexpected friendship, love, romance and comedy, and it is filled with delightful literary references and connections. (The story about Charles and Mary Lamb was so dreadfully sad and interesting, since we have loved Lambs’ Tales from Shakespeare as a family as part of our homeschool experience.) Mary Ann Shaffer is clearly a fellow book lover. It is all the more poignant because Mary Ann Shaffer was ill during the writing and had to call in her niece , Annie Barrows, to help her finish the book, knowing that it would be her only published novel.

In her afterword, Annie Barrows writes: “This profusion of questions, exclamations, and tales is the new version of the Society. Its members are spread all over the world, but they are joined by their love of books, of talking about books, and of their fellow readers. We are transformed – magically – into the the literary society each time we pass a book along, each time we ask a question about it, each time we say, ‘If you liked that, I bet you’d like this.’ Whenever we are willing to be delighted and share our delight, as Mary Ann did, we are part of the ongoing story of The Guernsey Liteary and Potato Peel Pie Society.” I am glad to be able to offer my small contribution.

 

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