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

guernseyThis is the second in my “unintentional trilogy” of World War Two novels — books I stumbled across, one after another, each of which revealed an aspect or a story from that war that I didn’t know much about.  In fact I knew nothing about the historical event at the centre of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, the German occupation of Britain’s Channel Islands.

The novel takes place not during the war, but after, and is an epistolary novel in which the main character, a writer, gradually learns the story of the occupation of Guernsey through her correspondence with the members of a very unique book club that formed on the island during the occupation.  Through the letters — and the letters she writes home after going to visit her new Guernsey friends herself — the story of their suffering and courage unfolds beautifully and naturally.

The atmosphere of postwar Britain and the love of books both permeate this novel so much that it’s impossible not to draw comparisons to 84, Charing Cross Road, which is of course not an epistolary novel but an actual collection of real-life epistles.  The epistolary form can be somewhat limiting, but in the case of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society it is used so skilfully that the characters emerge as fully developed individuals in a vividly realized world. 

I had one tiny quibble with the novel, which was that the romantic subplot of the story took a completely different turn from what I had expected and hoped for, and I feel this was due to a significant piece of information being deliberately and somewhat manipulatively held back until too late in the story. I can’t say more than that without spoilering it, but rest assured it is an otherwise minor complaint about what was otherwise a thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing — not to mention very informative — novel.

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4 Comments

Filed under Fiction -- historical

4 responses to “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

  1. I want to talk to you about this. The romantic subplot went exactly where I hoped it would go. And I can’t remember a piece of information that was withheld (and I hate being manipulated, so I would think I would remember it).

  2. We’ll have to talk by email so we don’t spoil others!

    • I’m curious, too! I read this book last summer (great cottage read), and don’t remember any information that turned up late in the narrative impacting the outcome of the romantic subplot. If you would be so kind as to share, I would greatly appreciate it — my curiousity has been piqued!

      Great blog, by the way. I just discovered it this afternoon and am trying to strike a balance between reading as much of it as possible, and not getting myself fired. I think I’ll get back to working for now, but you’d better believe you’ve been bookmarked!

      Cheers,
      Chrissy

  3. OK, now that two people have asked, I have to reply, but … SPOILERS …

    Here’s the thing (and it’s been awhile since I read the book, so I’m fuzzy on names and details) …

    The main character, whose name I cannot now remember? I really thought from the letters that there was a romance blooming between her and her editor-friend, or rather than he was in love with her silently from afar and that she was going to realize he was more than “just a friend.” The fact that he was gay was revealed quite late in the novel and totally took me by surprise … if it had been hinted earlier, I totally missed it. I could see there was a romance developing between her and the guy on Guernsey she was writing to, but I had this other romantic possibility in the back of my mind, and when it was casually mentioned that the other guy was gay, I was like, “the what now?” I’m probably the ONLY person who made that mistake.

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