Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

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

Historical Fiction 5*'s
Historical Fiction
5*’s

This is one of those books that I’ve been meaning to read for some time, the focus being the German Occupation of Guernsey. Living in Jersey which was also occupied this is a familiar subject as the history of this time surrounds me with the bunkers and fortifications left behind as well as the German Underground Hospital which has now been rebranded as the War Tunnels.

The beginning of the book strongly reminded me of 84 Charing Cross Road by Hannah Hanff, not only is this an epistolary but one of the earliest letters from Dawsey Adams, Guernsey to Juliet Ashton, the chief correspondent, mentions not only a book that belonged to her but a request for a book, there being no book shops left in Guernsey in 1946.
Juliet responds “I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” What a delightful idea. Juliet is a novelist, her witty war-time column has been collated into a book and she is doing a tour of the UK to promote it. She corresponds to her publisher, also a friend, as well as a close friend in Scotland and then prompted by Dawsey’s mention of The Literary and Potato Peel Pie society she begins to probe at the stories, and the flood-gates open as the Islander’s oblige.

 

German Army Band in the High street

German Army Band in the High Street courtesy BBC Guernsey

Juliet gets to know the inhabitants, even those who disapprove of the project, the nasty minded Christian who is determined to tell the author all about the society member’s failings, but as more stories are told Juliet realises that she wants to visit the island of Guernsey and see her pen-pals in real life. The genius of this book is the perfect mix of horrific stories, those people who were deported, those who lived in fear along with the lack of food, but these are balanced out by some tender moments, with memories of bravery and humour and compassion, not least at the society’s meetings. There were some letters that took my breath away despite being familiar with the nature of the events that occurred.

Guernsey

Guernsey – The Telegraph

But this isn’t just a book about the island the letters also tell us about Juliet, her burgeoning relationship with a publisher, her friendship with her own publisher and friend Mark Stephens and his sister Sophie, living in Scotland with two young children. This mix of her private life with fancy dinners and hotels with the correspondence with the islanders who are rebuilding their lives following the departure of the Germans further highlights the horror of wartime.

I can’t recommend this enough, I wouldn’t have thought it possible to pack so much into a bunch of letters but the author has constructed this so well, reporting items back to her friends as well as corresponding directly to the Islanders giving a light and chatty overtone to the darker moments.

I believe this book is being made into a film although rumour has it that it is being shot in Cornwall rather than Guernsey and I’m keen to see how the construct will alter to enable the audience to fall in love with the lightness of touch which makes this such an enjoyable read.

Author:

A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

36 thoughts on “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

  1. Okay, so I read this book a few years ago and loved it!! I so wish that I had been a member of a book club at the time as I would have loved to have a lively book group discussion with regards to this novel.

    As a side not (a bit off topic) I like your book blog, so I’ve nominated you for The Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award! Please check out my blog post for more information at the following link:

    http://captivatedreader.blogspot.com/2015/01/ive-been-nominated-for-sisterhood-of.html

    1. Lisa – this would make a wonderful book club read because what reader doesn’t want to nose at books read within books. There is so much material some of it quite contentious too…

      Thank you so much for my nomination 🙂

  2. Cleo – What an absolutely fascinating-sounding book! It’s a part of WWII history that I don’t know enough about, and what a great sense of place and context too. Little wonder you loved it so well.

    1. Do you know Margot I am certain I never learnt about the occupation of the Channel Isles despite covering WWII in detail while at school. I was shocked when I moved here and realised that despite being part of the British Isles they were considered indefensible and the story Mary Ann Shaffer has built up perfectly replicates those I’ve seen and heard here in Jersey.

  3. I’ve seen so many positive reviews of this one, but it’s great to read a review from someone who can vouch that it feels authentic about what happened on the Channel Islands. Great review – this one will be going on the pre-TBR list (which is between the wishlist and the TBR… 😉 )

    1. To be honest I thought it would be a little boring for someone who knows the history of the occupation which was partly why it languished on the TBR for a long time but it was anything but with the letter writers all having distinct (if at times a little bizarre) voices and the two aspects worked really well together. One day you’ll get to it!

  4. Great review, as always Cleo! This book’s on my ever-growing TBR pile. Knowing you’ve enjoyed it so much and seeing as we have similar taste in books, I shall move it to the top of the pile. 😉

  5. Do you know, my Grandma gave me this book forever ago and it’s been sitting on my shelf neglected ever since. I just looked at it this morning, and thought ‘I really must read this!’ and now I’ve stumbled across this post – clearly, it’s meant to be!!

  6. I remember reading this book a few years ago, but for me, it did not live up to the buzz. I liked it well enough, but without too much enthusiasm, I remember thinking that there were too many different characters writing letters, and that it was slightly confusing… I like how you illustrated your review with pics, Cleo…

    1. I think because the events described in the letters are familiar to me because I live on one of the Channel Islands I was able to take in more of the details about the characters writing the letters so their voices were more distinct. I’m glad you liked the pictures 🙂

  7. I had this book, ages ago, and I’d just started it and I left it on the bus one day! I wasn’t that far into it, but it sounds like I’ve really missed out. I shall be looking out for another copy. I do like books told in epistolary form.

    1. Oh no, you do misplace a lot of books 😉 This is one of the best examples I’ve read of a book in the epistolary form and the historical detail certainly chimes with my knowledge of the occupation of the Channel Isles.

      1. I do, don’t I ?! Most of them are, luckily, somewhere in the house (although having searched everywhere I can think of, I’m damned if I can find Wolf Hall, which I decided to finally read, inspired by the TV adaptation. Ditto Unnatural Creatures. And I know I packed every single book when we moved! *mental picture of Mr C throwing boxes of books into the bay…*) It’s very irritating, and I resent buying a book twice! I guess they’ll make an appearance sometime…

      2. Yay! Found a copy of this in Mary’s Meals charity shop for 50p! (Brought it into the house hidden in his newspaper to avoid any comments – I was just going to blame it on you and your excellent review! But he’s not spotted it – yet!)

  8. Oh my, I quite love this book, and I’m very excited to find out that you are actually from Jersey!?!? Guernsey cows are my favorite breed (random, I know), so a few years ago I set out to find out what I could about the Channel Islands, since I knew very little (we don’t cover their history much here in the U.S.). Do you have any recommendations for any other stories set on Guernsey or Jersey?

    But yes, this book is just delightful – it’s one I’ve returned to more than once! 🙂

  9. I read this book some years ago because an American friend recommended it to me, and it was one of those books that made me fall in love again with reading compulsively. It was such a bitter-sweet story, and the author’s personal story did add to my appreciation of the reading.

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