April 26, 2009

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

Two books finished in under a week - a good week!

This is a book that first caught my attention in the bookstore because of it's title.  And then I started hearing some very positive reviews which made me want to read it even more.  And it really is a lovely little book.

Guernsey and the other Channel Islands first came to my attention when I met my friend Judy who grew up in Guernsey and now lives in Devon.  Then I read a bit about it in Elizabeth George's book "A Place of Hiding" (not one of her better books, but I was able to pass it on to Judy from Guernsey when I was done reading it!).  And here is another book featuring the island.

It is set in 1946, immediately following the Second World War, and is told strictly through letters (imagine an era when a letter written would arrive to it's recipient the very next day!) and telegrams.  Thinking back, I can't recall reading a novel set in immediate post-war Europe - it is very interesting to read about in this book, as the war looms large in everyone's memory and thinking, yet they are all trying to move on.

I can't give a brief plot synopsis as there isn't really one - this is very much a character-based book rather than a plot-based book.  There are several stories or plot lines woven together.  The story of how the islanders survived the German occupation during the war, by creating the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (the topic of discussion was books; the potato peel pies were the snacks served).  The story of Juliet, a London-based author who found success during the war and decides to write about Guernsey.  A gentle love story, made the more tender by being offset by a tumultuous one.  Elizabeth's story - her unconventional bringing up, her love affair, her illegitimate daughter, her imprisonment in a German camp.  Remy, who was befriended by Elizabeth in the camp and is now trying to get on with life post-prison camp.  A series of letters written by Oscar Wilde.

The book works.  The characters, as eccentric as they may be, are believable.  As are the letters - each writer has a distinct voice, and the personality comes through.  I was sad when the book ended, and I wanted to know more.  This book will definitely be filed under "to be re-read".

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