Sunday, November 15, 2009

Book 8: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

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

Occasionally I like to pretend to myself that I am not part of the mindless masses and that just because everyone else has read it or it's a #1 New York Times Bestseller or Amazon keeps trying to push it on me, doesn't necessarily mean I'll like it or that it's good. That was definitely the case with this novel. I just figured it was overhyped. Of course then I read it despite my reservations and liked it - because I'm really not as pretentious or intellectual as I like to think.

Obviously, the title sounds like quirk for the sake of quirk but the novel was actually entertaining. In a way it seemed very old-fashioned and even reminded me of Jane Austen in a way (not so much Austen's biting social satire but the small society with lots of eccentric characters, misunderstandings between people that like each other etc.) It's an epistolary novel which was almost another turn off for me. The main character is Juliet Ashton, a writer who has recently published a collection of her war time columns. She has a deprecating sense of humor and most of the funny lines are definitely from her. While trying to figure out what to write her next book about, she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a resident of Guernsey, a British island that had been occupied by the Germans during the war. This leads to an exchange of letters between Juliet, Dawsey and various other members of the Guernsey society until Juliet decides to pay a visit to the island.

While most of the islanders survived the occupation relatively unscathed, they were still affected by it. They were cut off for five years without news from friends and family. One of the society's founders, Elizabeth was sent to Germany for aiding a German prisoner, and still has not returned back to her friends and her young daughter. Another man also spent time in a concentration camp but came back after the war. Juliet finds herself drawn to these people, and particularly Kit, Elizabeth's young daughter. This is another part that seemed kind of on the old fashioned side to me - how quickly Juliet became a part of the community during her visit and built her friendships. Juliet soon decides to make Guernsey and the German occupation the topic of her next book.

One thing I enjoyed about the novel was the role books played. During her book tour at thebeginning of the novel, a reporter makes an issue of a secret, broken engagement. As Juliet tells a friend of hers, the reason they ended the engagement is that when the man moved in with her, he proceeded to box up all her books, and put his sports trophies on her shelves instead. I would have kicked him out, too. It's a very enjoyable read so if anyone else has similar hesitance due to all the hype, I would definitely recommend giving it a shot.

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