Tuesday, May 12, 2009

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

I'm sure there is nothing new to be said about this novel that has not already been written on another blog, but I thought The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was just delightful. I won't summarize the story as I often do, for you can find that anywhere. Instead, I'd like to comment on what I liked best about this novel.

Telling the story through letters was a stroke of genius, I believe. It gave it a very intimate quality that immediately helped me to connect with the characters. And the characters, most of them at least, were diverse, charming, witty, endearing, and lovable. The pompous fools and deceptive interlopers added some comic relief and were charming in their own way, too. In a subtle way, it reminded me of Anne of Green Gables, but maybe that's just because Guernsey and Prince Edward Island evoke idyllic images of island life. The WWII history was told by the characters as it had impacted their own lives, which gave it such a personal and natural quality, making it very realistic. I wonder how much of it might have been factual. It would have been nice to know of the authors' sources for describing the Nazi occupation of the island, as I would be interested in reading other histories or memoirs from that place and period.

I loved the literary references to such a wide variety of books. This novel certainly caters to book lovers. For that reason alone it would be fun to discuss at a book club since the novel itself could be discussed, as well as the comments made about many other books. The publisher has provided discussion questions, and is even offering a sweepstakes for a book club (6 members) to win a trip to Guernsey in October 2009.

Here are a few of the literary references to whet your appetite (or remind you of the charm if you've already read this):

"Lamb helped Hunt paint the ceiling of his cell sky blue with white clouds. Next they painted a rose trellis up one wall. Then, I further discovered, Lamb offered money to help Hunt's family outside the prison - though he himself was as poor as a man could be. Lamb also taught Hunt's youngest daughter to say the Lord's Prayer backward. You naturally want to learn everything you can about a man like that." (11)

"At the start, we tried to be calm and objective, but that soon fell away, and the purpose of the speakers was to goad the listeners into wanting to read the book themselves. Once two members had read the same book, they could argue, which was our great delight. We read books, talked books, argued over books, and become dearer and dearer to one another. . .we could almost forget, now and then, the darkness outside." (51)

"Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books." (53)

"It seems to me the less [Shakespeare] said, the more beauty he made. Do you know what sentence of his I admire the most? It is 'The bright day is done, and we are for the dark.' I wish I'd known those words on the day I watched those German troops land, plane-load after plane-load of them. . .If I could have thought the words 'the bright day is done and we are for the dark,' I'd have been consoled somehow and ready to go out and contend with circumstances - instead of my heart sinking to my shoes." (63)

"But you want to know about the influence of books on my life, and as I've said, there was only one. Seneca. . .Maybe that sounds dull, but the letters aren't - they're witty. I think you learn more if you're laughing at the same time." (89)

"I'm sure many Islanders grew to be friends with some of the soldiers. But sometimes I think of Charles Lamb and marvel that a man born in 1775 enabled me to make two such friends as you and Christian." (97)

"Thompson saw his chance: he beat his spoon upon his glass and shouted from the floor to be heard. 'Did any of you ever think that along about the time the notion of a SOUL gave out, Freud popped up with the EGO to take its place? The timing of the man! Did he not pause to reflect? Irresponsible old coot! It is my belief that men must spout this twaddle about egos, because they fear they have no soul! Think upon it!'" (102)

The only flaw, in my opinion, was a bit of political correctness that seemed gratuitous. On one level it fit because it answered a fairly obvious question, but I'm sure that question could have been satisfactorily answered apart from a reference to sexual orientation.

Whereas it took me three weeks to finish Vanity Fair, I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in only two days (so fast I didn't even get to do Teaser Tuesdays!). Perhaps that is an indication that my tastes in books is rather superficial (I hope not, and maybe some of the quotes above show more depth than superficiality), but it certainly is easier to like a book with a solid plot and a hero/heroine. I highly recommend this novel for a quick read with great characters, a good amount of history, and a love for books on every page!


Becky said...

I already wanted to read this book. Now I want to read it NOW. Why can't my library have this one without such a long wait list attached?

Page Turner said...

Becky - I feel your pain! I was number 30 on the wait list at my library and had to wait 2 months to get it. But it was well worth the wait!!!

Memory said...

Great review! I enjoyed this book for many of the same reasons.

Slow Reader said...

I found a copy on my library's express shelf. This book is delightful. It has everything -- humor, pathos, romance -- perfect for consumption in a few days. It's light, and it moves along, yet has enough description to let you get to know the characters and their surroundings. It has food for thought. And its style works.

By that I refer to the letter-writing format. As opposed to others of a similar motif that I've been critical of -- Tenant of Wildfell Hall -- these letters ring true. They're brief, they assume the "intended recipient" knows more than the reader, and they have different voices so that the characters are distinct.

On top of all this, it's about a time and place that I'm always interested in: WW2-era England. There's just something comforting about it, I guess because the characters are getting their lives back to normal after the war, as best they can.

Marlene Detierro said...

If you, like me, are one of the very few people yet to read this surprising little book, please do yourself a favor and do so at once. I have no idea why I let it languish on my bookshelf for months on end, but I am just kicking myself for not diving in sooner, because it is absolutely wonderful. History, love, humor, trials, and of course, books. A must-read for any bibliophile.

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