Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Authored by Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, was published in hardcover by Dial Press in July 2008. Click link in title above to go to publisher's reader's guide. I picked it up on the dual basis of online word of mouth blurbs and the fact that the book was placed facing the front door of the library branch I regularly frequent. It’s in a similar vein to the book Five Quarters of the Orange which I read and reviewed last summer. Both books deal with the impact of World War II on small Nazi occupied villages in France and Guernsey respectively. TGLAPPS is written in epistolary form.

Set in the England of 1946, Miss Juliet Ashton, aka columnist ‘Izzy Bickerstaff’, is sent out on a book signing tour in support of her latest book. Her publishers, also dear friends of hers, have asked her to think up a new project and write a book. Juliet, however, has the proverbial writer’s block. Her Izzy Bickerstaff columns were light and witty and observant, but England’s ongoing financial struggles and related woes have put Juliet off of anything in a similar vein. Unfortunately, she has no idea what to write.

One day she receives a letter from a man on Guernsey. It seems he has come across a book that had her name and address in London in it. He has written to her in hopes that Juliet will send him the name of a good bookshop that might mail books out to Guernsey. Thus begins a correspondence between Literary Society members and Juliet. The reader experiences, through the letter writers’ eyes, what life on Guernsey was like during the war just ended the previous year. All of the trials and tribulations and strife and small joys and victories. I almost felt like a voyeur, peeping in the windows of a tightly knit and loving community doing everything they could to survive.

The Literary Society was born fully formed out of the mind of one of the members when several islanders were caught out after curfew. After which episode, the villagers had to meet regularly to ‘make the Society real’. Unfortunately they were stuck with whatever books were ready to hand as, obviously, no new books would be shipped out to Guernsey from either France or England. Titles mentioned or briefly discussed are: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Selected Essays of Elia, Wuthering Heights, Pickwick Papers, Selections from Shakespeare, Catullus, Oxford Book of Modern Verse 1892-1935, Letters of Seneca, Past & Present, Pride & Prejudice and Canterbury Tales.

Like Chris Bohjalian’s newest book Skeletons at the Feast, TGLAPPS recounts how one person becomes the glue that holds a little community together, a person whose resourcefulness and integrity becomes the focus of daily survival. Readers watch as Juliet and the Society members heal. The power of books to temporarily allow their readers to escape reality and to expand horizons and broaden viewpoints is widely discussed via the letters and in person conversations.

Excellent book. Very eye opening for me as a) I’m too young to remember WW II and the attendant privations and b) I’m not British, so this viewpoint was helpful and unique.

Note to myself- read in 2008, do not include in 2009 statistics.


Kailana said...

I loved this book! One of my favourite reads of 2008 by far. :)

Marg said...

This was one of my top 3 books of last year too. Such a fun read.

Bookwormom said...

Kailana & Marg~ It was a wonderful read. The internet buzz was what really convinced me to pick it up. I'm so glad I did, too!