May 9, 2011

The Weeknight Book Club: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows.

Image courtesy of www.wantitall.co.za
I never wanted this book to end.  I became completely immersed in the world of German occupied Guernsey from the perspective of post war London through the epistolary structure of the book.  Each letter was so alive and with such a unique point of view.  At times hilarious and at other times so graphic as the everyday atrocities of war and wartime deprivation were told through the eyes of normal citizens.  The worst of the pain and suffering had little to do with weapons and warfare but moreso with the immense cruelty that human beings are able to inflict upon each other.

To describe too much of the plot would give away many of the twists that make reading this novel such a pleasure, so I'll be brief.  Juliet is a witty and successful journalist in her 30s.  She lives in London and has has mostly come to terms with the social implications of being very much unmarried and independently minded in 1940s Great Britain.

Then fate changes the direction of her life by bringing 2 very different men into her life.  Dawsey Adams is a resident of Guernsey and writes to Juliet because he came to own her copy of a writing by Charles Lamb.  A lively exchange of letters follows and Juliet finds herself captivated by the book club the islanders formed as a 'legitimate' way in which they could share with each other what little they had during the occupation by the Germans.  The second man is a wealthy and eligible charming American who woos Juliet with great persistence.

Inspiration strikes Juliet and she decides to live on Guernsey for a while so that she can meet the members of the bookclub and also write about them.  Through Dawsey, many members have already corresponded with her before she arrives on the island and through these letters, we are told the story of what life was really like on a German occupied island in World War II.  Sadly, one member of the club died in a Nazi concentration camp.  Her name was Elizabeth and her big crime which lead to her deportation was to fall in love and fall pregnant to a German soldier.  Their daughter Kit remained on the island, to be cared for by the extended and loving family that is the book club.

I will say no more except that Juliet chooses her man and the lifestyle that truly makes her happy.

Whilst the book has its happy ending, the authors' lives after completing this book were touched by tragedy.  After the first draft of this novel was accepted by the publisher, Mary Ann Shafer was diangnosed with a terminal illness.  Without the energy to complete the rewrites, she enlisted her niece, Annie Barrows to help her. Shafer died in 2008 and with her ends any possibility of another novel as touching and entertaining as 'The Guernsey Lieterary and Potato Peel Society'.

4 comments:

  1. LOVED this book too ... so poignant that she never knew it was published. X

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  2. It sounds absolutely AMAZING. Thank-you for your beautiful review!

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  3. I've heard a lot of raves for this book but until now, I hadn't known what the story was. It sounds sweet. (Bumps book up my to-read list.)

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  4. Loved this book, so engrossing, not sure about the person she ended up with being right for ther though

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