Friday, 15 May 2009

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



Pages - 240

Published by Bloomsbury in 2008

Challenges - 100+ books,

The year is 1946, and a wartime writer Juliet Ashton, sits at her desk trying to figure out what she write next in order to produce a wonderful new book. Out of the blue, she receives a letter from a Darcy Adams who lives in Guernsey, who is now in possession of a book that used to belong to her written by Charles Lamb. Spurred on by their mutual interest in this writer, they began to write to each other over a period of months. In his letters, Darcy tells Juliet all about his involvement in the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and her interest grows. Soon she is receiving many letters from different members of the society telling her all about how the society began and about daily life in Guernsey. She also learns about how Guernsey survived during the German Occupation of their land. Juliet finds she cannot hold off any longer and travels to Guernsey to meet the unusual characters of the Society and finds her whole life changing for ever.

I have heard so many rave reviews about this book I just had to read it. I read the first few pages and at first I could not see what the fuss was about. I really couldn't see where it was going until the mention of the German Occupation came up and then I could not put the book down. The book reads on two levels. On one level, you have Juliet's life, with her listing all her whimsical activities and on and off romances. Then you have a deeper level, which deals with all the emotional and physical deprivation caused by the German Occupation of Guernsey. I have to put my hands up now as a British Citizen, I did not know that Guernsey was occupied by the Germans, who waited patiently to set foot in England. Since reading it, I have had to keep asking questions of everyone I know who was around during the war.

I found a parallel between two characters in the book. You have Juliet, the writer who is eager to learn about the island and help them in any way and you also have Elizabeth, an absent character whose memory is still so strong within the island, that they talk about her as though she was still there. I almost found them morphing into the same person with Juliet taking over from where Elizabeth left off.

I really enjoyed this book once I got into it and I believe I enjoyed it for two reasons. Firstly, I learnt so much about how life was for not only the islanders, but also for the German soldiers as well as the prisoners of war stationed on the island. Secondly, I enjoyed the way the book is set out as a serious of letters and telegrams ( remember those!). Now I know there is a correct word for this type of book, but I can't for the life of me, remember what it was, so if someone could leave me a comment, letting me know I shall write it down for future reference! I have always loved books that are set out in letter format. My first most enjoyable one, being Dear Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster; if you haven't read this, you really should.

I want to share a passage with you from the book that talks about how the prisoners of war were treated on the Island. I found it very moving to read.

"Most of the slave workers came to the Islands in 1942. They were kept in open sheds, dug-out tunnels, some of them in houses. They were marched all over the island to their work sites; thin to the bone, dressed in ragged trousers with bare skin showing through, often no coats to protect them from the cold. No shoes or boots, their feet tied up in bloody rags. Young lads, fifteen and sixteen, were so weary and starved they could hardly put one foot in front of another. Guernsey Islanders would stand by their gates to offer them what little food or warm clothing they could spare. Sometimes the Germans guarding the Todt work columns would let the men break ranks to accept these gifts - other times they would beat them to the ground with rifle butts."

Those poor men, treated so badly and struggling to survive each day. This is another one of those books, similar to Beloved, which I reviewed on Tuesday, where you realise how lucky you are!

This book is really a book lovers paradise as there are lots of references to books from the beginning of the century. They discuss their discovery of Jane Austin, as well the Bronte sisters. Within the book, you watch the characters gradually fall in love with books and become so passionate about them.

The book was written by Mary Ann Shaffer who was born in 1934 and raised in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Here is some information from the back of the book, which tells you how she came up with the idea.

She became interested in Guernsey while visiting London in 1976. On a whim, she decided to fly to Guernsey but became stranded there as a heavy fog descended and no boats or planes were permitted to leave the island. As she waited for the fog to clear, she came across a book called Jersey Under the Jack-Boot and so her fascination with the Channel Islands began.

Many years later, when urged by her own literary club to write a book, Mary Ann naturally thought of Guernsey. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, her only novel, would go on to be published in thirteen countries.

Unfortunately Mary Ann passed away in February 2008. Her health deteriorated as she got to final stages of writing the book and she asked her niece to help her finish it. When she died, she knew that her book would be published in England. It seems such a shame that she waited all that time to write it and never got to see how well loved it would become worldwide.

I would definitely recommend this book as one to read.

If anyone else has reviewed this, let me know in the comments and I will add it into this review for others to see.

Also can anyone recommend any other books written in letter format, as I am sure I would really love to read them.

16 comments:

  1. I am afraid I gave up on it, maybe one day I will give it another go, but a book in letters right now..nope.
    But great review

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  2. Epistolary format is what you are looking for. I loved this book as well. It just grabbed me from the beginning and I couldn't put it down. I don't think I have read a review yet that didn't like the book. Have a great weekend and happy reading.

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  3. Loved your review. I have this book sitting on my shelf, and while I really do want to read it, other books just keep jumping in and demanding my attention first. Sure hope I can get to it one day soon.

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  4. oh, i've heard such grand things about this novel--and worst yet? i actually borrowed it from my library a while back, but returned it without reading it because i ran out of time!

    i also enjoy novels written in letter or journal format. great review--i am GETTING this book. seriously!

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  5. I loved this book as well. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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  6. Blodeuedd - sorry you didn't get to finish it.

    Kaye - thank you for knowing what it was called. I really couldn't remember.

    Debi and Bookline and Sinker - hope you get to read it soon.

    Kristy - it was fab.

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  7. Really want to read this one someday... eventually. Glad you liked it though. Hmmm, letter format? The only one that comes to mind is Love, Rosie by Cecelia Ahern. I really enjoyed it and all this author's books actually.

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  8. I read this book and loved it and passed it on to my mother. She reacted at the beginning the same way you did, but then she grew to love it.

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  9. Ladytink - thanks for the book idea. I shall write it down.

    Bermudaonion - I thought it was just me - glad your mum reacted the same way.

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  10. This was one of my favorites of 2008! I too enjoy the letter format. Lesley (a fellow book blogger) had a great list of epistolary books in a post a while back. I will find the link and give it to you as I think you might enjoy some of the books on the list!
    *smiles*
    Kim

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  11. I had the same reaction as you did. The first few pages I just could not understand they hype! And then, well, then, the rest was history. :)

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  12. Hi again--here is the link to Lesley's (from Lesley's Book Nook) post about her store's endcap of epistolary titles:
    http://lesleysbooknook.blogspot.com/2008/11/epistolary-end-cap.html

    I will say that one of them on the list, Address Unknown is a small but VERY intense book revolving around WWII events.

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  13. I started reading this but had to take it back to the library because it couldn't be renewed. Luckily for me I just found it at a secondhand store for only $1! =) I'm glad you enjoyed it. I can't wait to start reading it again. The first passage you quoted from, stayed with me when I was reading the book. It's sad the author passed away before knowing how loved her book is by readers.

    Vasilly

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  14. I love epistolary novels and I love history, particularly WW2 history. I just have to read this book!

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  15. Hmm. I've heard loads of good things about this book and now your review really makes me want to look out for it. Maybe a trip to the charity shops is in order :)

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  16. This sounds like a good book, I like the cover. That quote about the POW's is very sad.
    I do like it when characters in books talk about books and reading.
    Great review :)
    http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

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