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