Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
And so, what more can I add to the already vast amount of written insights and reviews about Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrow’s novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society? What more can I add to the plethora of praise and the lengthy assessments that haven’t already been said? And finally, why did it take me so long to discover such a treasure?
So now, with almost a mourning resolve I will share my feelings about a story that has instantly become a treasured friend. With the final word finished and the last page complete, I closed the book, but not without brooding first. I held it tightly to my chest, wishing for the saga to continue. If only I could project myself into the pages and live amongst these quirky people and become a member of their war-torn, lovable family. How I now inexplicably yearn to have known these fictitious characters and been invited to sit around their tables discussing the merits of novels, and the authors who created them. More so, how I now long to have been emboldened with the strength of character, the timeless wisdom that comes from experience, and the fortitude of moral steadfastness when faced with human frailties, shared so intuitively between each turn of phrase and every garnered spent word.
January. The year was 1946. On the Island of Guernsey, whose occupants, like so many others, had suffered under German Occupation during WWII. Juliet Ashton, a writer, receives a letter from a total stranger from Guernsey, a member of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, an appeal of sorts. A request perhaps, but within this petition, a new and exciting adventure taunts and titillates Juliet’s imagination and her author-lust for a good story. So she decides to explore further and requests through written exchange to be permitted to visit. But while she is anxious to unfold the many tales that indeed promise to entertain, she comes to find that these stories, these histories come entangled within the lives of an entire community thrown headlong into the center of rebuilding, reinventing, but most of all, – healing.
War is an ugly, tumultuous time. The countless lives lost, damaged and forever changed can never fully be understood, and perhaps that is a good thing, for the pain endured is catastrophic, and in reality, a kind heart can only be expected to endure but so much. And while this is a novel composed entirely of exchanged letters, it is still written in such an ingratiating way as to transport you, the reader back in time and place. The authors plop you down straight into the lives and hearts of the awaiting community, now in the midst of rebuilding their lives and homes, while afflicted by loss and memories. However, they are kept remarkably resourceful and kind. Kept whole by a common thread – a deceased yet honorably aligned kindred spirit who had touched all their lives at one time or another and gave them hope, strength, and the reason to continue resisting, despite having hers stolen.
This marvelous story will wickedly cause your eyes to water and the creases of your smile to stay plastered to your face, sometimes at the same time. And while you may find yourself inclined to voraciously read through the night, unable and unwilling to put the book down, I caution you to opt towards a slower read. Allow yourself to absorb the innumerable oddments as they appear. To re-read them again and again, and then force hands to close the book. In other words, don’t read this book – absorb it. Live it. Savor each word and witty diatribe and in doing so take a ride back in time to a place when a group of people learned how to survive a gruesome and hostile military occupation through the gathering and shared readings of books. But most of all, how they were able to encapsulate the world's beauty outside of their captivity, while their bodies remained starved and depleted.
While the world around them continued to rage, these folks read to feed their hearts, and in doing so, sustained their humanity.