Review – “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows is the story of Juliet Ashton and her bunch of pen pals from the Channel Island of Guernsey. The plot sounds as zany as the title, right? The story is mostly set in the present year of 1946, just after the liberation and the end of the war, and is told entirely in the form of letters. Without knowing that the story has the backdrop of the war, I proceeded with much enthusiasm only to be crestfallen because I wasn’t expecting another war novel so soon after the much loved All The Light We Cannot See. Nevertheless, instead of abandoning it, like I wanted to, I persisted and voila, I couldn’t have been a happier reader.

The whimsical heroine Juliet is stressed. She doesn’t like the new topic that she is writing on but doesn’t have any other topic to write on, and her publisher cum friend Sidney isn’t giving her a break from all the touring for her bestseller book. And then there is the handsome and charming Markham Reynolds, the American who doesn’t seem to be getting enough of her and she says, “Men are more interesting in books than in real life.” LOL, so true.
Dawsey Adams is a resident of Guernsey Island and he writes a letter to Juliet telling her about the book he has with her details on it and asking for a favor in return. With this letter, Juliet makes a connection with the literary society of the island, founded by their friend (and Juliet’s alter ego, later)Elizabeth Mckenna in a situation so gravely funny that one wonders whether to laugh or to cry.
Highly predictable, Juliet leaves for Guernsey while Mark waits impatiently for her reply to his marriage proposal. Once on the island, Juliet is welcomed warmly. She enjoys the company of the society members and not only becomes an integral part of their group, but she finds herself having homing instincts when Elizabeth’s little girl Kit opens up to her.
Finally finding her topic to further her writing career, Juliet is overwhelmed at the peace she feels while on the island.

Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books.

Oh, what do I say about this book? It has my heart, my soul, my love, and all my wishes. Such a warm story, simply written with happiness oozing out of every single page. It was a lovely break from all the high-intensity reading that I was doing. I had picked it up on the recommendation of my online readers’ group, not knowing what the plot was about except that it is wonderful. I tried watching the movie just after reading the last line, and I was highly disappointed. I wanted to wipe the movie off the face of the Earth, I found it so revolting. Anyway, which screen adaptation has ever done justice to its print counterpart?

The old adage – humour is the best way to make the unbearable bearable – may be true.

After having read a couple of war books and then watching the WWII documentary had already sensitized me on this gory chapter of world history, so when I encountered the topic in this book, I immediately felt sad. I felt remorse washing me over, thinking what horrors would I come to read. But to my utter surprise, Mary Ann had handled the topic in a manner worthy of applauds. The gravity of the effect of the war on the citizens wasn’t at all lost behind her humorously fluid and light writing. The Occupied island of Guernsey and its occupants were shown in their best and their worst forms. The characters rose from their dark tormented past to bring in the kindly chatter and eccentricity that the book so wilfully lures the reader with. Their innocence remained untouched by the atrocities committed by the German army men.
(Though some reports do suggest the collaboration of the Channel Islanders with the Germans, I’d quote from the book here, “I think hunger makes you desperate when you wake to it every morning.” and “Boredom is a powerful reason to befriend the enemy, and the prospect of fun is a powerful draw – especially when you are young.”)
Coming back to the book, it was a refreshing read undoubtedly but with a strange and confusing beginning. The introduction of so many characters, yes, there are numerous, left me riddled while I tried to remember who was who and what connection did they have to each other. Yet, one must persist here to find a heartwarmingly emotional book. One might think that the plethora of characters that Mary Ann brings in her story would leave little room for character development. That one couldn’t have been more wrong. Through the letters, the characters describe themselves and their lives beautifully, both past and present. The strong-willed Juliet, the watchful Dawsey, the caring Sidney, the motherly Amelia, the kind Eben, the weird Isola, the exuberant fugitive Elizabeth, and her equally lively daughter Kit, all were a delight to read about. Also well described splendidly were the natural beauty of the land and blitzed London. I found myself full of joy while reading it into the night and beginning the next day as soon as I could. I did choke one time when the fate of Elizabeth was revealed and had to take a break to gather myself before plunging into the beautiful world of Guernsey again. 
With the fear of being repetitive, this book wasn’t what I expected but more. It is a shame that the author died before she could give the world more of her works. A story blended of love, wartime courage, and books, it was a perfect soulful read.

Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.

This book found a home in my kindle, hope it does reach you too.


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