Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Author: Mary Ann and Annie Barrows
Release Date: 2008
Genre: historical fiction, letters, romance, British literature, WWII
My Rating: ****
Official Rating: adult fiction
Age Group: 16+

Juliet is a young writer in London trying to get back on her feet after the war. Her house was bombed and she is living in a little apartment. While a truly successful writer during the war, she doesn't want to write about those things in that style anymore. It was trivial and careless, a much-needed distraction for her readers at the time. But now she wants to write about something better.
And she's having a horrible time finding something to write about. Eventually, she gets in touch (quite accidentally) with the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a group of people in Guernsey whose survival stories from the war are unfortunately common, and yet unique in that they are their own people. She greatly enjoys her correspondence with the Literary Society and eventually goes to visit, thinking maybe at long last she has found the subject for her book, if only she can find the proper structure.

All written in the form of letters.

Word of Warning
  • There is mention that one of the characters is homosexual. This is glossed over for the most part.
  • Children born out of wedlock.
  • Kisses. One of my favorite parts of the novel is when one letter-writer confesses that she caught two people kissing in the parking lot with loosely closed lips. It's my favorite because this is proposed as a huge scandal. There's just something very beautiful and innocent and right about that, and it's something it's been along time since I saw.
  • People suffered during the war, which we knew. They had barely enough to eat and constantly lived in fear. While not graphic, and not at all depressing, there is no shying away from the facts.
  • One woman is sent to Ravensbruck where she died. We get small glimpses into this life. Mentions of beatings, solitary confinement, a woman freezing to death, and dog attacks (though the dog attack part is skimmed over quickly).
  • Orphans. Death. Bombings (mentioned, as this is after the war so they are no longer happening).

My Thoughts
This is a gem of a novel. Its composition being entirely of letters was particularly interesting for me as a reader. It was a very unique and wonderful way to approach the story. Letters are sent to an editor, a best friend, the people of Guernsey, a suitor, secretaries, and many other characters. Most of them center around Juliet and are more often than not sent to or from her.

It's a fascinating little story, actually. Gripping, but not in the way that has you sitting on the edge of your seat. It's a sort of comfortable grip, as though you have something sweet to return to at the end of the day before bed.
But this is about World War II, you might remind me. That was a horrible time. It's not a "fascinating little story" that is sweet.
But it was. It was gentle, did not shy away from reality, and had a beautiful glimmer about it all the same. In no way did I feel that it had neglected the horrors of the war. I honestly think it was more touching than those horror stories of the terrible things that happened (though those have their place as well).

Wonderfully done, Shaffer and Barrows. Well-crafted. Structure, wording, the characters--it all worked together to create a gem that I will keep on my bookshelf forever.


grandma jane said...

What a fine review of a contemporary book that, thanks to you, more people will now want to read.
Love your My Thoughts description, "This is "a gem of a novel." Having read this book, I agree. Thank you for a refreshing change of pace.

Maria Gianna said...

thank you! I'm glad you liked it, and I'm very glad you've had a chance to read this great book. while I do love a traditionally written book (and have a special place in my heart for certain classics), I also like seeing the new things authors do, so this was a fun one for me.
and it's nice to keep as much variety on the blog as possible. so after two weeks of comic TV show reviews (back to back because these two shows share many of the same fans and often crossover), we change pace with a well-written but new book. now we shall see what comes next! (I scheduled it, but I don't remember what it was :)