narfna’s #CBR5 Review #84: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

guernseyMy sister gave me this book as a gift two or three Christmases ago. I put it on my shelf and forgot about it until a couple of months ago when she guilted me about not having read it. And really, she had a valid point. I’m usually the one who recommends books, and she always reads them, so when she does bother to give me a book I’ve never read before, the least I could do is return the favor. Unfortunately, I had somehow lost my copy, possibly in one of my several moves, possibly due to other unknown factors. So I had to go out and buy a new copy, and that fucker was $15.

Publishing industry, if you’re listening, $15 is too fucking much for a little 200 plus page book.

Guernsey is an epistolary novel that takes place post-WWII on the island of Guernsey, where an impromptu “literary society” popped up in response to the German occupation there. The main character is an author who is corresponding with the island’s inhabitants for research purposes, but she soon finds herself directly wrapped up in their lives.

Anyway, I was a little lost at first, what with the epistolary style and the fact that it just kind of jumps right in. I was just like, “huh?” for about the first ten pages or so, and then BOOM I was kind of in love. That feeling didn’t last all the way through the book, sadly, as the ending did feel a bit contrived and the main character felt a bit shoehorned in, but it was just such a happy little book I don’t even care. If you don’t like emotionally indulgent books, you probably won’t like this, but if you like a little sap and cheese with your steak (I don’t know, it’s late), then you should probably pick this up. The parts where they recount their war experiences were fascinating, and the members of the literary society made me want to move there and join just so I could hang out with them, the weirdos.

All in all, good rec from my sister. God, it’s only taken her twenty-six years to prove useful to me. JUST KIDDING. (That last part was a test to see if she’s reading this. Go about your business.)

dsbs42’s #CBR5 Review #6: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows


guernsey

First, I would like to point out that if you are going to have a book take place in Britain, with characters from Britain, consisting of the letters that these British characters from Britain are writing to other British Britains, then you bloody well spell “honour” with a U, dammit! I’m not sure who is to blame for this, the publishers, the editors, or the authors, but come. on.

As for the actual story itself? Well, I found it endearing. Of course, it was incredibly cutesy (like Stars Hollow on rainbows), and most of the main characters lacked any actual human flaws. Also, and this is a common problem in epistolary novels, most of the many different characters’ letters – male and female, old and young, educated/literary and not – read suspiciously like they were written by the exact same person. I’m sure developing a unique voice for 10+ original characters is a difficult job, but them’s the breaks if you choose to structure your novel through letter.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society reminded me of nothing so much as The Secret Garden – so, so sickeningly sweet, and everyone is ridiculously wonderful, but you don’t really care because sometimes people really can be like that, and it works. There’s room in the world for books like this (and room for books like The Big Sleep, equally).

Read the complete review here!

Funkyfacecat’s #CBR5 Review #01 The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

There are several favourable reviews of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society on Cannonball Read 4. To some extent I agree with them – this is an enjoyable enough read that sheds some light on an aspect of World War II often neglected in the historical novel. However, the reviews and the premise set me up for wanting more. For some reason, it reminded me of Julie&Julia and how much I wished that it had been just Julia – there are deeply interesting environments and conflicts and passions hovering around the edges of the book, but they are filtered through a fairly standard character trying to decide what to do with her own life. It’s as if the author didn’t want to fully commit to trying to see a community and a person from the inside, so they create a main character out of their own hesitations as a sort of escape route – to provide the easy laughs and easily relatable problems and distraction from the serious and the depressing. Here concentration camps and evacuated children sit uneasily beside the main character’s romantic dilemmas. I’m not saying that all books about wars need to be completely heavy going, unrelieved bleakness interspersed with horror, or that there is no place for love and romance and laughter amid suffering (after all, Anne Frank wrote about her crushes and daydreams as well as her ever-present fear) just that perhaps the writers who write the best fiction about horrible circumstances immerse themselves, letting the humour emerge naturally from within the situation and the characters, from human nature confronting the inhuman and the terrible and the absurd, from the life that goes on in the middle of the darkness. Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair (probably anything by Graham Greene, come to that) and Elizabeth Bowen’s The Heat of the Day spring immediately to mind as examples of the sort of thing I mean. I say this, of course, never having written a novel, or lived through anything like Britain or the Channel Islands of the Second World War.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is centered around Juliet, who wrote a humorous column under the name Izzy Bickerstaff during the war, and now looks to sink her teeth into something a bit more serious. The Occupation of Guernsey becomes her pet project due to a coincidence (the first of many unlikely ones). It doesn’t take long before she goes there for a visit, encountering stories of hardship and cruelty that are heart-rending and some that are humorous, of islanders exhibiting various shades of bravery and cunning to outwit the Nazis. The almost universally beloved and heroic Elizabeth, who left behind a small daughter, and her fate, come to be the centre of the book Juliet decides to write, but unfortunately they are not the centre of Potato Peel Society – Juliet and her love life and the lessons she is learning take over the narrative, and while they are sweet and amusing enough, they left me thinking thinking that a novel focused solely on Elizabeth, during the Occupation, would have been absolutely fascinating.

24th May 1946

Dearest Sophie,

Yes, I’m here. Mark did his best to stop me, but I resisted him mulishly, right up to the bitter end. I’ve always considered doggedness  one of my least appealing characteristics, but it was valuable last week.

It was only as the boat pulled away, and I saw him standing on the pier, tall and scowling – and somehow wanting to marry me – that I began to think perhaps he was right. Maybe I am a complete idiot.

[…]

I’m back indoors. It’s hours later – the setting sun has rimmed the clouds in blazing gold and the sea is moaning below the cliffs. Mark Reynolds? Who’s he?

Love always,

Juliet

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