THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY by Mary Anne Shaffer

Before I get to today's review, I wanted to share a few links. The first is for you Time Traveler's Wife fans out there. The movie opens today, and I cannot wait to see it. ONLY if you've read the book: check out these three timelines of what happens in the book. One is from Clare's perspective, one is from Henry's, and one is a combined chronological timeline. Thank you to You Know Jack for pulling these together – I am sure it was a lot of work. Really makes you appreciate the detail and planning that went into this novel.

The second link is to an article in Tuesday's Washington Post about BookCrossing. Fun to read about the people who keep this site alive by leaving books in public spaces and tracking where they end up. I got my first BookCrossing book from a generous reader who sent it to me after seenig my post about College Girl, by Patricia Weitz. I guess it wasn't technically a BookCrossing because she mailed it to me, but I have registered it on the site and will review it once I've read it and, if I won't miss it too much, will re-release it into the wild.

Guernsey Now on to my review of Vacation Book #2: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Anne Shaffer. I must confess that it took me a while to want to read this book. First, I was put off by the cutesy title, worrying that it was going to be chick lit about a group of quirky friends in the South in the 50s or something like that. (This book comes to mind – apologies to its fans). Plus, Guernsey was so freakin' popular – it seemed like almost every book blogger I follow had read it, and I tend to shy away from the really frequently reviewed books. But then my friend Sarah read it and lent it to me, and I am so glad that I saw past my silly prejudices and gave it a read.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is an epistolary novel about the relationship that develops between Juliet, a writer/columnist in London just after World War II, and a group of people living on the British island of Guernsey (a Channel Island that is much closer to France than to England). During the war, Guernsey was occupied by the Germans and shut off from contact from the rest of the world, including England. Guernsey's inhabitants, who suffered incrementally more crippling deprivations, devised coping strategies to make it through the war. One group decided to form a social club (the society mentioned in the book's title) in which they shared their thoughts about the books they were reading.

The book is told through letters, as Juliet is first contacted by one member of the group about a book in his possession that once belonged to her. She starts corresponding with him, then with other members of the group, and eventually gets so drawn into their lives that she goes to visit them on the Island. I enjoyed the epistolary style, as it allowed the story to unfold in a natural pace that was also suspenseful and intriguing. I also enjoyed learning about the occupation of Guernsey during the war, something I had not been aware of before I read the book. I have read reviews that call this book "charming" and "romantic", and while those may be true, the book is also quite sad. The atrocities committed by the Germans are on full display here, and while Guernsey may be only a small chapter in the story of World War II, it is as sad and unforgettable as the rest.

In the end, the story is a bit contrived, but I didn't mind. It was a satisfying book, and one that took me out of my 2000s domestic drama comfort zone. It's also a book about reading, and readers, and the bonds that form between people who share love for the same books. I don't begrudge The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society its remarkable success, and I definitely recommend it.

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9 Comments

  • August 14, 2009 - 9:47 am | Permalink

    Okay THREE comments to go with your topics!
    1 – Those time lines are brilliant! I followed the book relatively well, but it’s still a great visual aid.
    2 – I love bookcrossings! While in Paris I found a book in my hotel and brought it back to America. When registering it, I learned that the book originally came from Amsterdam. Talk about a traveling book!
    3 – Glad you liked the book! I received a copy to review and haven’t gotten to it yet – I really want to though. It looks great. Excellent review!

  • August 14, 2009 - 11:05 am | Permalink

    I really enjoyed Guernsey…I have not read the Ya-Ya books, so I did not have any of those preconceived notions about Guernsey.
    I really enjoyed your review.

  • August 14, 2009 - 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Guernsey has it’s faults, to be sure. But it is so refreshingly different that it’s hard not to like. I think it’s a book that almost woman would enjoy to some extent.

  • August 14, 2009 - 1:19 pm | Permalink

    I’ve used Book Crossing once at the request of an author, but I mailed the book to another blogger. I love the idea of leaving a book in public, though. I may have to give this a try!

  • August 14, 2009 - 4:16 pm | Permalink

    I did not care for this one at all! I am in the minority, I know. I felt that the main character was so fake and very dramatic at times. It was a bit much for me.

  • August 15, 2009 - 9:43 am | Permalink

    I loved Guernsey. I thought it was a charming book. Would it be okay to link to your review on War Through the Generations?

  • September 17, 2009 - 7:56 am | Permalink

    I totally agree with you about the title. It almost kept me from reading the book. I’m glad it didn’t.

  • June 26, 2012 - 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps one of the best books I’ve ever listened to (I listened to this on audiobook)! The story was perfectly told and I connected so closely with the characters. Maybe that’s the reason I liked it so much – I’ve spent a lot of time in that part of the world and probably tend to romanticize it. I realize that’s subjective, but regardless, I highly recommend this book.

    Funny – I almost stayed away from the book too because of the title!

    Thanks for the review.

  • June 27, 2012 - 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Sherry – glad you found your way to my review!

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