Sunday, November 15, 2009

"The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrow

My rating: 4 stars out of 5.

Synopsis from
"From Publishers Weekly
The letters comprising this small charming novel begin in 1946, when single, 30-something author Juliet Ashton (nom de plume Izzy Bickerstaff) writes to her publisher to say she is tired of covering the sunny side of war and its aftermath. When Guernsey farmer Dawsey Adams finds Juliet's name in a used book and invites articulate—and not-so-articulate—neighbors to write Juliet with their stories, the book's epistolary circle widens, putting Juliet back in the path of war stories. The occasionally contrived letters jump from incident to incident—including the formation of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society while Guernsey was under German occupation—and person to person in a manner that feels disjointed. But Juliet's quips are so clever, the Guernsey inhabitants so enchanting and the small acts of heroism so vivid and moving that one forgives the authors (Shaffer died earlier this year) for not being able to settle on a single person or plot. Juliet finds in the letters not just inspiration for her next work, but also for her life—as will readers."

My thoughts:
There is something I just love about letters between people. So much more thought can go into what is put on the page versus what comes out in a conversation. Especially written letters versus email as many of us are now so used to sending and receiving. I loved the format of this book. It reminded me of "The Letters" which I read previously for this blog and a number of other books like "Daddy Long-Legs" that I've read in the past. Because of the length of each of the letters this made for good reading when interruptions were frequent or when free time was on the short side.

While some of the situations in the letters seemed to lead the story to stereotypical lines, the characters seemed real and honest. The history of the occupation of the Chanel Islands during WWII was new to me, this isn't an era that I've done all that much reading in so learning about what happened then has been very interesting to me. In that regard it reminded me of "The Postmistress" (also reviewed previously) for showing an historical time period through the eyes of characters living through it. Seeing history unfold in this way rather than just reading the facts in a book makes it much more real for me and adds a much greater depth to the experience.

I liked Juliet and could understand how she would be burned out after both the war and the book tour she went on to promote the collection of essays she wrote for newspapers during the war. When she decides to go to Guernsey to connect with the friends she had made in her correspondence I breathed a sigh of relief, I had been afraid that she would only know them through their letters and was glad she was meeting them in person. The resourcefulness of the island residents in finding ways to connect and enjoy themselves even in tough times was refreshing and goes to show that even when everything seems to be going wrong one can still find the positive in the negative.

It is too bad that the main author of the novel passed away so soon after publishing her first novel. Her niece stepped in at the end to do some editing and rewriting due to her aunt's illness, but the research and main writing and rewriting were all done by Mary Ann Shaffer.


  1. This is my new favorite book! i got a copy at the library and had to buy my own. :) I also thought it was sad about the author passing before she could see how successful the book was.

  2. Its on my shelf! I have to read this. Thanks for the review!

  3. This is one of my favorite books!!

  4. I wonder if the author hadn't passed away if she would have revisited any of these characters or written any more books. This was such a neat format. I love books with letters, it's such a nice change from most of my reading.