Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

It's 1946, and as Juliet Ashton sits at her desk in her Chelsea flat, she is stumped. A writer of witty newspaper columns during the war, she can't think of what to write next. Out of the blue, she receives a letter from one Dawsey Adams of Guernsey - by chance he's acquired a book Juliet once owned - and, emboldened by their mutual love of books, they begin a correspondence. Dawsey is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, and it's not long before the rest of the members write to Juliet - including the gawky Isola, who makes home-made potions, Eben, the fisherman who loves Shakespeare, and Will Thisbee, rag-and-bone man and chef of the famous potato peel pie. As letters fly back and forth, Juliet comes to know the extraordinary personalities of the Society and their lives under the German occupation of the island. Entranced by their stories, Juliet decides to visit the island to meet them properly - and unwittingly turns her life upside down.

A moving tale of post-war friendship, love and books, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is gloriously honest, sweet and funny - a book to fall in love with.
This little book is the subject of quite a lot of attention at the moment, and I am going to join the chorus and say that it definitely deserves it!

I must confess that the first few times I saw this mentioned on blogs I completely skipped over it simply because, to me, the title suggested something very different from what it is actually is.

Julia Lambert has spent most of WWII writing witty newspaper columns under the name Izzy Bickerstaff, doing her part in keeping the spirits of Londoners up during the dark days of the Blitz. Now that the war is over, Julia wants to do something different. She doesn't want to be Izzy anymore but she doesn't know what she does want to write.

One day she receives a letter from one Dawsey Adams, who lives in Guernsey. He has found a book by Charles Lamb that used to be owned by Julia and he has written to her in the hope that she may be able to assist him in finding more books by that author. In his letter, Dawsey mentions that he is a member of the Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, and Julia's interest is captured. What is the Society? Where did the name come from and how did it start?

What starts as a simple correspondence about an author grows into a series of letters between not only Dawsey and Julia, but also several of the other islanders (some are members of the Society but others are not) and Julia, and soon she begins to feel as though these people are her friends. They also begin to tell her of how life was on the island during the German occupation which no other part of the British Isles experienced.

Soon Julia finds herself wanting to go to Guernsey to meet the people she has come to know. It doesn't take long before she is caught up in island life, and her life is further woven into the lives of her friends than she could ever have imagined she would be at the beginning of the book.

The characters are fun with lots of quirkiness, but there is a depth that is captured as well - the losses that they suffered, the separation from the children that were sent to the UK for their on safety, the hunger, the fear left from living under oppression.

The whole book is told in the format of letters, telegrams and notes between the characters.
when I started I really wasn't sure if that format would work for me, or if it would become a bit annoying by the end of the book, but the author(s) really did well at making the story flow within the limitations that this format necessarily gives to the structure of the novel .

I have been trying to think of a book to compare to this one, but I am really struggling. It is funny and charming, poignant, informative and there are probably numerous other descriptions I could use, but at its heart it is a really lovely story. The fact that I too wanted to go to Guernsey after finishing the book means that the characters not only captured Julia's heart, but also mine as a reader!

Just a couple of other thoughts on the cover and author. The covers for the Australian book is just so plain that if I had not heard of this book already I would never have even picked it up. It is interesting that in other places around the world, the author is given is Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, but here it is just Mary Ann Shaffer. There is a note in the back that explains that after submitting the original manuscript, Mary Ann Shaffer became ill, and so her niece Annie Barrows completed the book. Unfortunately Mary Ann Shaffer died before seeing her book published, which is both a shame for her, and for us as readers because her book is a lovely read and it would have been interesting to see if she could have followed it up with another great read.

I totally recommend this book to anyone, and ending up giving it the highest possible grade - 5/5 for this one!

Cross posted at Historical Tapestry.

If you have reviewed this book, leave a comment and I will add a link to your review.

A Garden Carried in the Pocket

Thoughts of Joy
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Sincerely Stacie
Word Lily


  1. Very impressive review. Jotting this one down.

  2. I've read so much about this book. Like you, the title put me off until I read one rave review after another. Now I'm in queue at my library!

  3. Wow, fabulous review! I'm definitely going to have to read this one.

  4. You and Jenclair convinced me. I must read this one!

  5. So glad you enjoyed this one, it is amazing isn't it? I agree with you about the cover too - some of the overseas covers are a lot more indicative of the book's content I think. Please let me know if you think of another book that will compare to this one!

  6. The title does not do the book justice and that's such a shame. I believe that many people are going to miss out on such a good book due to that. It definitely makes my list of Best Reads for the year. :)

  7. The title fits the book once you read it, but if you are a HF fan and looking for a new HF read you wouldn't think this was a book that you would like!

  8. I would've ignored this book completely because of that title, but you and jenclair and joy have talked me into reading it. Nice job!

  9. Loved it and I also give it 5 of 5! ;)

  10. I agree with your review and I reviewed it too, here:

  11. I happened to review this book, too:

    I actually liked the story behind the story quite a bit and, so, find it interesting that Barrows wasn't listed as an author on the Australian edition...wonder why.

    (nice job!)