Friday, September 25, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

2008; 274 pages. Genre : Modern Literature; Historical Fiction. Overall Rating : A-.

  .It's 1946 and World War 2 has recently ended. Juliet Ashton is a one-hit author (of an Erma Bombeck style of book) trying to adjust to a normal life after her London flat was flattened in the war by a V-2 bomb. She crosses paths with some of the inhabitants of the island of Guernsey (a British protectorate, located in the English Channel just off the coast of France) who are trying to adjust to a normal life after having been subject to German occupation for five years. To cover their curfew violation one night, they invented the Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, which had the unforeseen benefit of introducing a bunch of the islanders to Classic Literature.

What's To Like...
It's a great epistolary novel. There's a slew of engaging characters, none of whom are entirely black or white (not even the Germans), and most of whom evolve as the book progresses. There's wit throughout and even a subtle thread of humor underpinning the storyline.
I liked the first half (where everyone is making acquaintances with one another) better than the second (after Juliet arrives on Guernsey). I had trouble keeping track of who's who. Especially the Londoners, all of whom seemed to have S's (how does one correctly write that?) for initials. There was Sophie and Sidney and Susan; there was Stark and Stephens and Strachan. Sheesh.
It's an ambitious book in that it combines the themes of the horrors of war, reading the classics, and ...oog... relationships (romantic and otherwise) into one story. It's hard to say who the target audience is. But I enjoyed it, I give it a high recommendation and an "A-" rating.
Oh icky-ewwww! It has romance in it.
True, but the main romance is between Juliet and the island of Guernsey.
Yeah, there's the secondary one, where Juliet agonizes whether to choose "wealth, high society, and a life of ease in America" (but with a controlling husband) or "writing & reading, a farmer's small income, and an instant kid in Guernsey" (but with contentedness). Fortunately, not too many letters are devoted to this, so even I could get into the story. And FWIW, any guy could reason his way through Juliet's quandary in about 5 minutes. ;-)
On the afternoon before our wedding, Rob was moving in the last of his clothes and belongings while I delivered my Izzy article to the Spectator. When I was through, I tore home, flew up the stairs, and threw open the door to find Rob sitting on a low stool in front of my bookcase, surrounded by cartons. He was sealing the last one up with gummed tape and string. There were eight boxes - eight boxes of my books bound up and ready for the basement!
He looked up and said, "Hello, darling. Don't mind the mess, the porter said he'd help me carry these down to the basement." He nodded to the bookshelves and said, "Don't they look wonderful?"
(pg 24)
"I never want to see you again."
"Juliet?". He really had no idea what I was talking about.
So I explained. Feeling better by the minute, I told him that I would never marry him or anyone else who didn't love Kit and Guernsey and Charles Lamb.
"What the hell does Charles Lamb have to do with anything?" he yelped (as well he might).
I declined to elucidate.
(pgs 213-214)

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