The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was published in 2008 and co-authored by the aunt/niece team of Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Mary Ann Shaffer, sadly, passed away before she was able to finish the novel. Luckily for us, Ms. Annie Barrows picked up where her aunt left off, and we’re so fortunate that she did.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, man, that’s a mouthful, huh? I kind of put off reading this one for awhile because the title is so crazy but once you read it, you realize it is totally perfect. The novel is set in 1946 in London and the English Channel island of Guernsey and opens with a letter from a Guernsey islander to Juliet Ashton. Juliet is a British author whose newspaper column, Izzie Bickerstaff Goes to War, made her famous during WWII. Juliet’s column was informative and insightful and humorous, just like Juliet herself. So, our first Guernsey letter writer, Dawsey Adams, contacts Juliet because he finds her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb. He writes to her because he loved the Charles Lamb novel and figured she would probably be able to recommend other books he might enjoy and that he could share with his book club, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. And so begins our story.
The novel is written as a series of letters between Juliet and the Guernsey islanders primarily. From the very first letter, I fell in love with Juliet Ashton; she is kind and loving and funny and whip-smart. Juliet very gladly writes back to Dawsey with some book recommendations and inquiring as to how the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society got its crazy name. During WWII, Germany invaded Guernsey and occupied the island for five years in which time the Germans set all kinds of rules and restrictions on the islanders including food rations and a curfew. On the night the Society is born, a group of friends decides to break both rules. Amelia Maugery has managed to host a dinner party for Dawsey and a few other islanders, with a real roast pig! As the group is leaving Amelia’s, after curfew, they run into a German patrol officer but they can’t very well tell him they’ve been at a dinner party, because rations. The group is caught until Elizabeth, their unwitting founder, comes up with a truly believable story that they’ve actually just been at their book club meeting and the discussion was so enthralling that they completely lost track of time. Elizabeth is quite charming and the officer believes her and sends them on their way, but oh! several of the German officers love reading and would like to come to their next book club meeting. So, they are now a real book club and must scramble to read a book by the next week when they’ll share with their new German guests. The Germans lose interest, but the literary society remains.
Juliet is a writer and she knows there is a story here. She asks Dawsey if the other members would write to her about their experiences during the war and what the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society means to them. Juliet receives some amazing letters because the literary society is chock full of wonderful characters. Dawsey is the strong, tender man of few words. Amelia Maugery is Mother incarnate, loving and tender. Isola is a complete and total hoot. And Elizabeth, she is their heart. Brave and strong and real. In pretty short order, Juliet comes to adore her pen pals and knows that the only way to get a real sense of their lives, and her story, is to go to Guernsey. While in Guernsey, we learn just how special this place and these people are. Their lives during the war were completely isolated, they had no news other than the information that the Germans told them, which couldn’t be trusted, they had to send their children to England and just hope that one day they would see them again – their story is incredible and Juliet falls in love with them. And as a reader, I did too.
There is, obviously, a lot more plot to this story but its a book that I’m finding is hard to describe because while the story is great, the best part of this book is how it makes you feel. As a book lover, I just felt this sort of kindred spirit-connection with the characters that is so fun and kind of rare. It was a book that I didn’t want it to end because once it was over, that feeling of immersion in another world and a kind of peacefulness would be over too. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is quite simply a lovely book and I definitely recommend giving it a try.