Wednesday 6 August 2008

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

My luck must be in at the moment because over the weekend I learnt that I had won a book in another book draw. Elaine at Random Jottings held a draw for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer, and I was lucky enough to be one of the winners! The book arrived on Tuesday morning, just as I was finishing something else; I started it Tuesday afternoon and finished it tonight.

Juliet Ashton is a writer. The year is 1946 and throughout the war she's been writing a lighthearted newspaper column entitled Izzy Bickerstaff Goes to War. It's been published as a book and Juliet is now looking for a new subject for her next book. Out of the blue she gets a letter from Dawsey Adams who lives on the island of Guernsey, in the Channel Islands. He has purchased a secondhand book about Charles Lamb which used to belong to Juliet (her name and address were inside). The two begin a corresspondence and Juliet begins to learn about the wartime occupation of Guernsey by the Germans. She hears how the Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society came into being, about its founder member, Elizabeth, and about the others members who soon begin to write to Juliet too. Very soon these people become important to Juliet and the more she learns the more fascinated she becomes with their stories. Elizabeth is central to every story and Juliet is shocked to learn that she was taken off to a concentration camp and no one knows whether she is alive or dead. Despite having a determined American suitor, Juliet is eventually compelled to go to the island and meet the people she has corressponded with, whereby the subject for her next book becomes perfectly obvious.

I seem to have been pretty lucky with books just lately - everything I pick up is enjoyable and delightful and this one was no exception. It's written in letter format and thus reminded me a bit of 84 Charing Cross Road, the tone is certainly a little bit similar. Charming as that book is though, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society has much more of a story and that story is fascinating. There's such a lot of history retold here in the shape of the people of Guernsey's experiences with the occupying Germans. The hardships they endured such as lack of food, fuel and so forth. The fact that they sent their children to the British mainland before the Germans arrived and then had no idea what had happened to them for five years. And then there was the horror of people being taken away to concentration camps for minor misdemeanours or simply for being Jewish. Being a bit of a history fan I found all of this fascinating but the lure of the book is much more than that. You become very involved in the lives of all of the characters, to the extent that it's almost impossible to stop reading; luckily, that's not a problem as the writing is very readable indeed. There's quite a bit of sadness in this book - I was close to tears several times - but an awful lot that is uplifting and optimistic as well. The truth is, I absolutely loved it to bits and am very grateful to Elaine for holding the draw. Thanks, Elaine!


DesLily said...

I can tell you really enjoyed this book! I love when a book grabs you so strongly. (especially when you least expect it).. they tend to linger in your mind a while!

Elaine SL said...

I am so glad you loved this as much as I did Cath. One of the most captivating books I have read for ages and ages. I have yet to find anybody who does not like it. And congratulations on winning my draw!

Anonymous said...

I just finished this book yesterday as well and will post a review soon. What a lovely book! I want to move to Guernsey and know all these people, don't you?

Cath said...

I did love this book, Pat, and you're right, you always know that when you can't stop thinking about it days later. Wish all books were like that but then maybe that might be boring.

I absolutely adored it, Elaine. Luckily, I had some free time to devote to reading it or it would have been a bit frustrating.

Look forward to reading your thoughts on this book, Kay. Yes, I now want to go to Guernsey and meet these people. My in-laws used to go a lot, but I've never been to The Channel Islands. One day perhaps.

Ruth said...

This sounds like an amazing book. I've been intrigued by it ever since I first heard the title.

I seem to be finding myself in the midst of the Second World War a lot these days. I'm reading Bear Any Burden by Ellis Goodman right now, and while the main action takes place during the Cold War, there's over 90 years of history that make it as much of a family epic as it is a thriller.

Julie Goucher said...

Hello Cath, Fancy seeing you here!

I have read nothing but good reviews of this book and have added it to my next Amazon order!

Cath said...

Hi Ruth. Sorry I didn't reply to this, Blogspot didn't send notification and I've only just spotted it. Yes, I seem to be reading quite a lot of books written in or around WW2 at the moment, along with quite a few others. Odd how the same fancies seem to affect people at the same time.

Hi Julie! Welcome to my other bookblog. It's more or less a carbon copy of the LJ one but I tend to keep the records of my book challenges here rather than on LJ. Easier here. I think you'll really enjoy this book when you get it.