For a couple of weeks, every time I spoke with my mom she urged me to read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. “It’s about WWII,” she told me. “It takes place on Guernsey during the Nazi occupation.”
Being a sucker for all things related to the UK and WWII, I gave in over Thanksgiving break.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society begins with Juliet Ashton, a writer, receiving a letter from a founding member of the titular Society. Juliet decides to write an article about the society (for a philosophy and literature series) and begins to receive more letters from Guernsey. She determines that the best way to write the article is to go to Guernsey itself.
The book is written in a different fashion–various lines of correspondence between Juliet and the other characters, such as her publisher, best friend, and the people of Guernsey. Through the letters, notes and telegrams we get a sense of who these people are. Their thoughts are intimate and thoroughly engaging.
One thing that I enjoyed is the care the authors put into developing individual voices for each of the characters. Some write only one or two letters, yet sound distinctive from the others. This aids with the realism of the book. One can’t help but feel like one is spying on these people, yet also feel like they are friends (or acquaintances at the least).
The story is one that is alternatively light and dark. The tones the characters write to each other in are humorous and self-deprecating. On numerous occasions I started laughing out loud. As the book is about the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands, the story becomes serious at times, but never loses its charm.
It saddens me that letter writing has fallen by the wayside for email, facebook and twitter. Fifty years from now, will anyone write a story in a similar manner about people like us? Emails lack that personal feel. Will an entire book be told over tweets? It strikes me as a bit ridiculous, really (if a fun poetry experiment).
All said, this is a charming book. Recommended for those looking for a feel-good novel (it does have a very happy ending!). Light, enjoyable, and worth the few hours it takes to read. Best enjoyed with a continuous stream of tea and digestive biscuits.