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

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

This is an interesting post-World War II tale told in epistolary form, where letters are exchanged between various characters. However, it is so homogeneously presented and, as a result, so cloyingly told that it verges on sweetness overload long before the letters stop flying back and forth.

In 1946, British writer Juliet Ashton receives an unexpected letter from a member of an unusual book club on the island of Guernsey, which was occupied by German forces for much of World War II. As she starts to engage in correspondence with this first and then other of the members, Juliet learns that the island community’s book club is pivotal to how many of them survived the occupation. She is inspired to write about this group, goes to visit them to do her research and eventually becomes a member of the community – which is no spoiler in this amiably predictable book.

The book has its touching moments. In particular for this reader, the observations about the heartbreak of sending one’s children away to keep them safe were moving, evoking a recent visit to the extraordinary Imperial War Museum in London.

The irony about the sameness of the voice in this book is that an epistolary novel should have anything but. Novels constructed in a style that incorporates a sequence of letters, journal entries or other documents ostensibly achieve greater versimilitude than a more conventionally narrated work, because those documents capture more readily day-to-day life, intimacy and individuals’ unique modes of expression, including their foibles and faults. Everyone sounds the same in this book – man or woman, urban or rural, literate or supposedly not. And everyone sounds like clever Juliet, whose glib perkiness wears thin rather quickly. Was this perhaps a problem with the final editing process for this book? Did niece Annie Barrows and others not want to interfere too much with the original work of Mary Ann Shaffer, who died before the book was published? Whatever the reason, it’s this sameness that robs the book of authenticity and charm, when it so clearly wants to be loved and I would have liked to comply.

One thought on “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

  1. jaduperreault

    V, your take on it was more similar to my husband’s. He found it too predictable and sweet and by the end just wanted it over with. I did find the romance aspect too predictable and a bit annoying but I didn’t find that part of the book as important as the rest. I loved getting a feel for the community through the letters and found that many of them, especially the farmers, had a different character. I did not particularly take to Juliet (perky, as you say) but I loved the overall personality of the group and learning how they survived, learning about the Todt workers (my ignorance of history!) and being reminded of the bravery and toughness that so many people displayed during this time. I also found it quite humorous in parts, particularly the games Kit made up (Dead Bride made me laugh out loud!) It would be fun to talk about it in person. You’ll notice I only gave it 3 stars because of flaws but overall found it a pleasant read.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *