Happy Memorial Day Weekend, USA!
We are celebrating this weekend with lots of family time, good food, and remembering loved ones by visiting graves. Hope you all have a lovely weekend!
I am so excited to be back today with a review of one of my favorite WWII novels (which is actually quite British, not very patriotic for Americans, but still so fabulous), The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (which is quite a mouthful).
I read this book first years ago when I heard good things about it. I’m not sure who I heard that from, but I checked it out at the library and adored it.
I love this book.
I want to write a book like this.
I want to live in a book like this.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows takes place right after WWII. Juliet Ashton, a London columnist, receives a surprise letter from Dawsey Adams, a man from the island of Guernsey who owns a book that used to belong to Juliet. What follows is a marvelous correspondence between Juliet and the Guernsey literary and potato peel pie society. Guernsey, with other English channel islands, was occupied by the Germans in WWII and a small group of friends started a literary society to escape punishment for breaking curfew but it becomes a source of hope and strength for them during the war. Juliet devours their stories and hopes to write a book in tribute to their experiences. Ultimately, Juliet goes to Guernsey to uncover more about the past and find new meaning in her life.
The most unique and engaging aspect of the novel is the epistolary form. The entire book is written in letters. We have letters from Juliet to the citizens of Guernsey. We have Juliet corresponding with her college best friend Sophie and her boss Sidney (who is also Sophie’s brother). Letters from all of them to each other. This unique style gives the book a unique tone. It feels like you really know and get to experience life with these characters. It feels like these letters are written to me. Or that I was there for society meetings, feasts, interviews, and walks. We get to experience a different side of the characters because we see how they write.
I love Juliet because she loves books and embraces happiness when she finds it. This woman loves books. She is my kind of friend. She has a lot of difficult experiences in her past–her parents dying in a car crash when she was a child, losing her London flat in a bombing, trying to find her written voice after the war, etc. She has a lot of overcome. But I love that books get her through hard times. Literature saves her from defeat. (One of my favorite letters is when she describes why she didn’t marry her soldier during the war. When he was moving in the day before the wedding, he boxed up her books and put his athletic trophies in their place. So she threw him out. So awesome!) Further, when she finally visits Guernsey and realizes that she belongs there–that she has renewed meaning in her life–I love that she stays. I love how she falls in love with little Kit and her quirky ways. I love how she finds the family she’s always longed for. And I love that she finds love.
The members of the Guernsey literary and potato peel pie society are quirky, lovable, wise, and endearing. They are each so different and feel so real. From Amelia’s wisdom and calm to Isola’s quirky witchcraft gardening and scalp-bump-reading, to Eben’s love and strength, to Dawsey’s patience and calming presence, they all have unique and also common stories. Perhaps that makes them all the more endearing. They are real.
The ending of the book is just lovely despite the hurried break from the epistolary form. That break has had me thinking since I finished the novel this time. I’m not sure I like that we get into only Isola’s head with her “detective notes” for the final climax of the novel. But I can appreciate seeing that scene as it occurred, rather than in a letter later. I’m torn about how I feel about that change in form. Regardless, I love the ending. It completes Juliet’s transformation through the story and gives readers a satisfying and beautiful ending to the novel.
Naturally, there are so many lovely quotes from this book. Is there anything better in the world than quotes from books about books? I can’t think of anything to compare! I love quotes about books because they bring meaning and joy to reading. And reading brings so much meaning and joy to my life. I want to print these all out and hang them in my house. Enjoy these lovely words of wisdom from Guernsey.
“Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.”
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, page 10
A few thoughts about bookshops. I feel the exact. same. way.
“…there is nothing I would rather do than rummage through bookshops…”
“It was amazing to me then, and still is, that so many people who wander into bookshops don’t really know what they’re after–they only want to look around and hope to see a book that will strike their fancy.”
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, pages 11 & 16
And on the joy of reading…so true.
“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive–all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, page 11
I adore the lovely themes of love, learning, and literature that pervade throughout the story. Because the literary society have each other, they can endure difficult trials during the occupation. Because Juliet is willing to learn more about the literary society, her life is changed forever. Because of their society, the Guernsey residences learn to love literature. Because of literature, Juliet and Dawsey are connected in the first place.
If you love books, this story will captivate you and change you.
If you are willing to learn, this book can teach you something incredible.
If you believe in love (in all its forms), this book will strengthen your belief in the power of love.
Basically, I think this book is for everyone. And I can’t wait to discuss it with my neighborhood book group this coming week!
Have you experienced The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society yet?