The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Publishing Year: 2008
Genre: Historical, Feel-Good
My rating: 4/5
Recommended for all those who love to read books.

guernsey

The book is set around 1945, the ending of World War II and subsequently, the ending of German Occupation on the Islands of Guernsey. The major themes of the book are the magic of reading, friendship, finding love and using these to navigate tumultuous times. The book also commemorates virtues of courage, loyalty and being strong in the face of danger.

It centres around a literary society formed during the second world war. Three of the Guernsey citizens were caught after an illicit gathering (a Pig Roast feast) and to escape punishment, one of them contrived the Guernsey Literary Society on the spot as the reason for the gathering. With a strange hodgepodge of members, from people who loved to read to people who had never read a book in their life; this literary society soon became dear to one and all. As each member tells their story in turn, I found myself laughing out loud, feeling sympathy, adoration, respect and even sadness with them. Each member had something unique to add to the society– from a Charles Lamb fanatic, a Wuthering Heights admirer to a worshipper of William Owens’ Poetry, this book creates such endearing characters that made my heart swell. To find out where the “Potato Peel Pie” came from, read the book! It’s delightful, I promise.

This book is also informative about daily life in Guernsey during the German occupation. How people of this little island were affected when the Germans took over– like not allowed to grow anything except Potatoes, having to grow and hand over their cattle to the Germans, famished workers hunting and stealing food at night in desperation, no wireless communications were permitted making the little island literally an “island” cut off from the rest of the world, even import export of goods were banned making common commodities like soap and salt unprocurable.

The story is peppered with mentions of authors and little bits of stories about them which I enjoyed. For example, I learnt Wilkie Collins is a man! (I never once doubted in my mind that Wilkie Collins was a woman, hence the shock). He is a man and he kept two different houses for his two separate mistresses and two separate sets of children! I no longer feel the gravitational pull I earlier did to read his books. Finally, it also made me want to read more poetry and remember how truly important it is. Poetry is emotion, wisdom, contemplation packed into tiny sentences. You can remember tiny sentences, not paragraphs of prose. These tiny sentences of poetry help you chuckle in situations, they are your silent friends whispering their wisdom in your ears as you experience more of life. The impact of remembering lines of poetry includes being able to recall them to describe a circumstance and emotion and then makes you ready to contend with the circumstance.

The protagonist Juliet is a writer who lives in post-war London and is having a hard time trying to find herself and a book subject that she is passionate about. She begins a remarkable conversation with the members of the Guernsey Literary society and gets to know them and love them in a series of letters. She sails to Guernsey to meet them and becomes a part of the society very soon, she finds her place among them and falls in love. Here, on the island, she finally finds a subject for her book — writing about a woman who embodies the spirit and zest of the island. Guernsey changes the course of her life forever.

Written in the epistolary form, this book is a sweet mug of hot coffee on a cold winter day. It’s an uplifting read boasting an outstanding cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all. It’s refreshing. It’s endearing. It’s funny. It’s uplifting. While it has a lot of good qualities, it sometimes reads like a Children’s novel. The epistolary format breaks continuation and makes it hard to follow and remember the different characters in the beginning, as they keep switching. The story is not what I would call “a serious read” but definitely one that touches my heart, it takes some impossible turns, lightens the post-war atmosphere, has a cutesy ending and is generally a feel-good book.

Here’s a newspaper clipping mentioned in the book:
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3 thoughts on “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

  1. Just finished reading the book! I loved every bit of it. Let me start with this — I never thought I would laugh out loud while reading a book or have any visceral emotion at all (sleep doesn’t count), but I giggled often while reading this book. Juliet is a darling. Isola is a goofball nutcase. Kit is adorable. She is the kind of baby one can have. Silent, hates most people but has her favourites and isn’t much of a hassle. She is happy in her own world and one would be blessed to be invited by her into her world. I loved how she judged people. How one would have to pass her assessment to be a good person at all. How she said she doesn’t kiss to Billie Bee I suppose. I loved how slowly she let Juliet in and how she would pat her knees and run off. I was a little sentimental when she let Juliet open her box with memories of Elizabeth.

    I loved Julient too. Ah, such a dramaqueen she is. I love her and her humour. I love her friends. I love Sidney and Susan. Gosh, what an amazing gift giver Sidney is. I envy. I imagined Sidney falling for Isola, but then fate didn’t hold that. It would become too cheezy I guess. But I will like to believe that Sidney leaves London and moves to Guernsey.

    Dawsey. Originally, when the rich-guy-don’t-rem-name-don’t-care and Juliet were falling for each other I really liked the infatuation phase and the witty telegrams being exchanged. But soon it didn’t feel right. I loved the transition from him to Dawsey and the entire realization she goes through. It made complete sense. Especially the moment she thought that she could never love someone who didn’t love Kit and Guernsey. It was a non-negotiable. She was repulsed. Dawsey, I really want to be friends with him. I wonder, same as Juliet, whether he would like me? He is a calm and simple man. The kind of simplicity I have spoken to you about in the past. I like Dawsey. I loved how they talked about books, pigs and history during their dinner date. Such diverse topics! I know another couple which talks about similar beastly and cultured stuff 🙂

    I just loved their world. All of them, such nice and innocent people who were happy in their own worlds (bubbles, island). I just loved the atmoshphere and the camaraderie the islanders shared with one another (except for that smug lady whose name I can’t remember now — but she was an important part of the equation). I would really like to be friends with every one of them. I can grow old in Guernsey or a place like it. It has this earthly, country-like or rural feeling to it. But Narnia still holds the first spot.

    I really loved this book. You’ve told me often how you chuckled and laughed out loud while reading. I finally could relate. What made it all the more special was that I could imagine you laughing out loud while readin the same lines that I was reading and chuckling on. I waited eagerly to see if there was anything underlined by you on page. Because, reading an underlined line felt like a special moment shared with you. I would start thinking what you were thinking when you underlined it. And wonder why you thought this was worth a scribble. I found it a way of knowing you more. I also felt bad when I thought “Ah — she would definitely underline this” but only to have it blank.

    Thank you for this book. I had an amazing time reading it and I feel like I will re-read it again in the future. This book is gem. I wish she wrote more. I loved the format, the characters and the humour. Half-way through the book and knowing that this is the only book she wrote, I found myself not wanting this book to end. Thank you again. Reading this fun!

    (I am curious though, why haven’t you underlined or left notes in the second half with the same vigour you’ve kept notes in the first? – Did you not enjoy the latter bits?)

    My rating – 5/5 (no complaints) — For me it was only about friendship and love.

    PS. Not that these words have any influence on you given I find you in most characters I read and you find that mostly unbelievable. But I did see a lot of similarities between your and Susan’s mannerisms.

    I also notice how I’ve kept Elizabeth out of my review — I wonder why?

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