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Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

February 20, 2012

15. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows (2008)

Length: 278 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Started: 08 February 2012
Finished: 09 February 2012

Where did it come from? BookMooch.
Why do I have it? It was on the list of LibraryThing Early Reviewer books way back when, and after reading Sorcery & Cecelia and Ella Minnow Pea, I was definitely interested in another epistolary novel.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 23 February 2009.

The Germans couldn’t
break Guernsey Island’s love of
family, books, and home.

Summary: It’s the end of World War II, and while rationing and rebuilding are still going on, spirits are lifting, and bestselling author Juliet Ashton is searching for a new topic. When she gets a letter from a stranger from Guernsey, asking her to send her books, which were unavailable during the war while the Germans were occupying the Channel Islands, she thinks she may have found it. But as she begins corresponding with this man, and the other (somewhat eccentric) members of his book club, she slowly comes to realize that she may have found much more than just a story.

Review: I don’t know why I let this book linger unread on my shelves for almost three years; it was a quick read, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Better, I was *charmed* every minute of it. I was not expecting a book about the German occupation of English territories during WWII to be so light-hearted, so witty, and so thoroughly charming. That’s not to say it was all lightness, all the time; Shaffer doesn’t dwell on the horrible parts of WWII and the Occupation, but neither does she ignore or gloss over them. She’s also perfectly capable of writing pathos (mostly along the lines of “family is where you find it”) as well as wit; I certainly got misty-eyed a time or two. But even when the subject got serious, the vivid, eccentric, and thoroughly lovable characters kept things from getting gloomy. And most of the time, Shaffer does a remarkable balancing act, keeping her story feeling real and immediate while maintaining her characters on the believable side of the dividing line between eccentricity and absurdity. There are tons of little bits of wit and sly humor peppered throughout, and every time I was forced to set the book down, I found I had a grin on my face.

The epistolary format is a tricky one, and Shaffer handles it quite well. There are of course elisions of details and scenes that would have appeared in normal prose fiction but that no one would have put in a letter, and while they’re missed, it’s more than compensated for by the bonus glimpse we get into our characters’ heads from seeing the world through their eyes – and their pens. And while the letters are occasionally a bit long, they all sound like things an actual person would write in a real letter – something that often can go wrong in an epistolary or diary-formatted novel. The story line is occasionally fairly predictable, and the plot didn’t offer up any real surprises… except the surprise of how easily I sank into the world of post-war Guernsey, and how much I fell in love with its inhabitants and their story. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Highly recommended for anyone looking for a new take on WWII historical fiction, people who like epistolary novels, or anyone interested in a witty and charming read.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: I think I’m the last blogger on the planet to read this book, so there are lots of reviews at Book Blog Search Engine.

First Line: Dear Sidney, Susan Scott is a wonder. We sold over forty copies of the book, which was very pleasant, but much more thrilling from my standpoint was the food.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 24: “I took my golliwog off the bed and put her in the attic.” – a soft doll with a black face, usually made of cloth or rags
  • p. 58: “I can be discreet when I really try (you’ve never forgiven me for that slip about Mrs. Atwater in the pergola, have you? I apologized handsomely at the time.” – an arbor formed of horizontal trelliswork supported on columns or posts, over which vines or other plants are trained.

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. February 20, 2012 9:18 am

    This one has gone on and off my TBR for a couple of years now. A friend of mine read it and didn’t really like it, so I’ve been reluctant to give it a shot. I do enjoy epistolary novels, though, so maybe I will read it! Thanks for the review.

    • February 23, 2012 4:01 pm

      I think you’ll know early on whether you find it charming or annoying, so I hope you give it a shot!

  2. February 20, 2012 12:50 pm

    So happy you have read and enjoyed this. I loved it back when I read it. I need to reread it one day!

    • February 23, 2012 4:01 pm

      Agreed, this has definite reread potential!

      • February 23, 2012 7:12 pm

        ya know? I was just thinking that I wouldn’t mind re-reading this one!

  3. February 20, 2012 2:50 pm

    I loved this book when I read it – it was just so delightful, but with enough depth to really satisfy me. I can’t believe how long ago I read it but I’m glad you enjoyed it!

    • February 24, 2012 10:07 am

      I can’t believe how long I’d had it without reading it!

  4. February 20, 2012 3:17 pm

    Charming is the perfect way to describe this book! I loved it too.

    • February 24, 2012 10:08 am

      I think everyone needs a charming book now and then.

  5. February 20, 2012 8:01 pm

    Yay! I was surprised how much I liked it too, although I caved in a very long while ago and read it. It’s become a wonderful comfort read.

    • February 24, 2012 10:09 am

      My comfort reads are usually ya or kids books but I can see how this one might fit the bill too.

  6. February 23, 2012 7:15 pm

    I am charmed by your delightful review. I loved this one and when I do come across the rare ‘meh’ reaction to it, I always wonder if I was hoodwinked or just happy to be charmed by lovely charming stories. (did I overuse the word charming?)

    And you’ve taught me “elision” – new to me! I know pergola, not golliwog. Those two words are fun to say…

    • February 24, 2012 10:14 am

      “Elision” is actually one of my vocab words from another book… Ella Minnow Pea, as it happens! I saw a chance to use it, which isn’t the case for a lot of my vocab that’s describing fabric or furniture or something.

  7. February 27, 2012 1:04 pm

    I loved this book, too. Charming is the perfect word for it. In these days of the Internet, reading an epistolary novel can be a breath of fresh air!

    • February 29, 2012 12:39 pm

      I didn’t even think about it that way, but you’re totally right. Reading books like this makes me want to send letters, or get back to writing in my badly-neglected paper journal.

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