Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Dial Press/Random House, 2009

My Rating: A+

Last Thursday I closed the last page of this book and I was eager to tell you about it. The problem was, I couldn’t. It touched me on so many levels that I didn’t have words to explain it. It took me a couple of days to digest this amazing story and calm down enough to talk about it. I’m ready now so let me summarize it first.

It’s 1946 and Juliet Ashton is a writer living in London. Juliet wrote a newspaper column during the war trying to help people keep a sense of humor. Those columns have been turned into a book and she’s become successful.

While toying with various ideas for her next book Juliet receives a letter from a farmer living on the island of Guernsey. He speaks of author, Charles Lamb, and how his book helped him during the German occupation. He also mentions  a hidden pig and his literary society. The letter intrigues Juliet and she begins a correspondence with Dawsey Adams. One letter leads to more and soon she is corresponding with nearly everyone in the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Juliet’s initial interest is in how books and literature helped the Society’s member survive five years of German occupation. The more she knows these people, the more she thinks their story may be the topic of her next book.

After about five months of correspondence, Juliet pays a visit to Guernsey. Becoming acquainted with the people of Guernsey means learning from each of them what daily life was like during the occupation.  Gradually, Juliet begins to care deeply for all of these people. She understands their physical and emotional pain, the suffering, and trauma they endured.

The story is told through the use of letters to and from Juliet and her friends and the residents of Guernsey.  The letters are so personal that I felt as if I were trespassing on something very private.

The letters were written in such a way that the reader saw the full personality of most of the characters. I understood completely the character of Juliet. She was so lovely, gracious and humorous. She didn’t mind poking fun at herself. At the same time she was quite empathetic with those who had suffered so much. She took on their pain. Each one of the characters was unique and believable.

The experiences the residents suffered during the occupation  really bothered me. As each new fact and experience  emerged, I could vision myself in their place.  And yet, I don’t know how the mothers survived sending their children to England to live with strangers, not knowing where they were or how they were doing. I tried to imagine living for nearly five years with very little food, no salt, no soap.  And to live with daily fear and what I imagined as overwhelming hate. I don’t know how they did it. They were indeed brave and courageous people.

I strongly recommend this book for a variety of people. First, for those people like my daughter Candice, who have a great appreciation for the lost art of letter writing. Second, to those who are World War II buffs and want to understand how the war affected civilians. Third, this book is ideal for book lovers as it has so many references to authors and literature and reading in general. And then, I’d recommend this book to people who love good character stories with a bit of romance thrown in. As you can see, there is something for everyone in this book.

I borrowed this book from the public library but it’s also available at Amazon

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16 Responses to Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

  1. JoAnn says:

    I’m a big fan of epistolary novels and loved this book, too! You’re right – there is something for everyone here. I gave it to my mother for Mother’s Day, then she passed it on to the rest of my sisters. A big hit all around…

  2. Stephanie says:

    I love epistolary novels, but this one was lacking for me a bit. My mother loved it though and she just visited Guernsey last month. The pictures were breathtaking!

  3. Beth F says:

    I really, really need to dig out my slides (yes, slides!) of Guernsey and write up a post. I did my doctoral research there and lived there for most of 1985. I related to the novel on so many, many levels.

  4. Kay says:

    My reaction to this book was much the same as yours, Margot. Just stunned and at a loss for words. After I read it, I felt like I needed to buy a million copies and put it into everyone’s hands. It may be time for reread for me. I’m so glad that you enjoyed it so much!

  5. Word Lily says:

    Yay, so glad you read and enjoyed this one! I know it’s been reviewed everywhere, which can be a turn off, but I think this one’s really deserving. Such a beautiful, fun (and epistolary, yay!) story.

  6. There were many things about this book that I loved, but I think it was the book lover aspect of it that most delighted.

  7. stacybuckeye says:

    I thought I was the last book blogger to have not read this book – and now maybe I am! My mom gave me her copy last year and I still haven’t read it. An A+ is a great recommendation!

  8. Oh, how I loved this book too!!

  9. I loved this book too – especially the ending!

  10. Staci says:

    I’m so glad that you read this one. Wasn’t the whole experience amazing??? Have you read 84 Charing Cross Road??? If not…RUN AND GET IT! You will not be disappointed…:D

  11. Mel u says:

    I also loved this book-I have 84 Charing Cross Road on my TBR list-I enjoyed your post a lot

  12. kaye says:

    I really want to read this one . . . nice review.

  13. I was holding my breath when I saw the title of this post, hoping that you loved it as much as I did! I’m so glad you gave it an A+. I still can picture that little girl and her brave mother as well as Julia. I knew nothing about the war and how the channel islands were cut off. I remember asking Bill “did you know this?” . I thought the book was so well written — and I just learned a new term from reading your post and comments “epistalory novel” — I’ve read Charing Cross — somehow I just didn’t know the term, but it makes perfect sense.

  14. Anna says:

    Glad to see you loved it as much as I did. It is a very touching book. I hope it’s okay to include your review on the WWII Book Reviews page of War Through the Generations.

  15. jehara says:

    I finally got around to reading this earlier this year. I really, really enjoyed it. I love letters and really enjoy stories told in this way. Mel U mentioned 84 Charing Cross Rd, which had been on my TBR list and I finally got to it as well this year. I read it first and Guernsey brought it back to mind during my reading. If I recall correctly, Helen actually was corresponding with the bookshop during wartime. She sent over gifts of food at Christmas and Easter each year. Both are lovely, lovely books.

  16. Bev says:

    All of us were reading this book when we traveled to France and Italy last year. I just loved it.

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