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!