“ I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.”
– a quote from The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society
I agree with the above – that’s how I have found a lot of books, without which my life would have been incomplete. Maybe that’s how I found The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society, too. I first came to know of this book from Vaishnavi, who recommended it to me on my blog. A quick Google search revealed that a lot of people had read and reviewed this book, and most of them were glowing with praise for it. I heard it is a book for book- and letter-lovers, and I knew I had to pick it up. I did finally get hold of the book on a site after unsuccessful visits to several bookstores. And, of course, I couldn’t resist not starting to read it, as soon as it arrived.
I must say I LOVED the book. It was a wonderful experience reading it. Initially, I was disappointed to notice big time similarities between this book and 84 Charing Cross Road, a book that I adore and cannot stop recommending to everyone who bothers to listen. I kept getting distracted by the similar tone of both of the authors, and the similar theme of both the books. As I continued to read further, however, I realised that both the books are a lot different, in spite of being a lot similar to each other. You have to read both the books to get that. 🙂
The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society – I agree the name is, kind of, weird and it had me thinking twice about reading the book. I thought it might be a serious kind of book, which would, maybe, not be my type. But I was in for a complete surprise. The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society is a delightful, delightful read – with tragedy, humour, facts, love all woven into it, and beautifully too. It is a book with ‘soul’ in it – it warms and soothes your heart each time you read through it.
The book tells the tale of a book club on the island of Guernsey, called The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society, located in the English Channel. The story is set in the era of the occupation of the Channel islands by Germany during World War II, and the book club was conjured up on the spur of the moment, out of fear of a German official. The members of the book club were just as unique as the name of the club, and most of them hadn’t read books before. The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society is the story of how books transformed the lives of these people, and gave them the motivation to live through the war.
A member of the book club, Dawsey, writes to Juliet Ashton, an author in London, who is looking for a subject for her next book. Letters flow back and forth, and Juliet soon starts corresponding with the other members of the club, too. She soon falls in love with the society and its queer members, and the island of Guernsey, too. The more Juliet hears about how the people of Guernsey braved the German occupation, the more she desires to visit the island. And she does, for her life to be transformed by the experience. The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society is an epistolary novel. The story is told through various letters – exchanged between Juliet, the book club members, her publisher and best friend Sidney, and his sister Sophie.
You cannot help but fall for Juliet’s charm as you read the book, as much as you cannot help admiring the spunk of each queer member of the society, especially Elizabeth and Isola.
It is easy to fall in love with Guernsey while reading the book, and I’m now longing for a relaxed time in a small cottage on a beach. How can I not, when I read sentences like:
“I’ve shoved a writing table by the biggest window in my sitting room. The only flaw in this arrangement is the constant temptation to go outside and walk over to the cliff edge. The sea and the clouds don’t stay the same for five minutes running and I’m frightened I’ll miss something if I stay inside. When I got up this morning, the sea was full of sun pennies – and now it seems to be covered in lemon scrim. Writers ought to live far inland or next to the city dump if they are to ever get any work done. Or perhaps they need to be stronger-minded than I am.”
“Certainly, an aeroplane flight to Guernsey would be faster and more comfortable than the mail boat… But unless you are bedeviled by sea sickness, I would catch the afternoon boat from Weymouth. There is no more beautiful approach to Guernsey than the one by sea – either with the sun going down, or with gold-tipped, black stormclouds, or the Island just emerging through the mist. This is the way I first saw Guernsey, as a new bride.”
You cannot not smile away to glory and feel yourself warming up, at some of the letters. You cannot stop feeling the mystique, the romance and the quaint charm of old-fashioned letters. You can’t help that twinge of pain, either, that passes through you on reading the tales of the war. And, you cannot not feel yourself being carried away by the passion of the club members for books, specially if you are a lover of books yourself.
I could perfectly relate to the conversations about books, like:
“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”
“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books.”
I was touched to learn that the original author of the book – Mary Ann Shaffer – wrote only one book in her entire life – this one – but she, unfortunately, died before it could be published. When a publisher asked for certain changes in the original manuscript, Shaffer was too ill and weak to take up the task, and it was taken up by her niece Annie Barrows, the only other author in the family.
I’m so, so happy I read this book, and would heartily recommend it to everyone. A big thanks to Vaishnavi for suggesting this magical book to me. 🙂
I read this book for OT 2010. Mary Ann Shaffer was born in West Virginia, USA, and so, this would technically be my second book from USA for the Challenge. I don’t normally do that – read two books from the same country for the Challenge, but this particular book is all about culture. It talked to me about Guernsey and the Channel Islands and the German Occupation as if I were right there at that time. It talked to me of a culture unknown to me – as no other book has done before. So, I think it is well justified if I include this book for the Challenge. Learning about different places and their cultures – that’s the purpose of the OT Challenge, after all!
I have read 6 books for the Challenge so far, and there are 2 more to go!