Tuesday 18 May 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: Review

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Published by Bloomsbury
Published in 2009 (Paperback)
ISBN: 978-0-7475-9668-4

I read this book as part of a bookcrossing book ring and have not been paid for this review.

Every once in a while I come across a book that I REALLY want to read. Once this happens it is inevitable that I won't be able to read it for a variety of circumstances for a good long while, thus heightening my desire and anticipation. So many times this dangerous combination of expectations and desire has brought me crashing to my reading knees when a long waited for book turned out to be really rather average, or, worse, totally crud. I have waited for a very long time to read TGLAPPPS. Maybe close to 7-8 months. I was not disappointed.

Picture of Guernsey

Set in 1946, just after the end of World War II, Juliet Ashton is looking for a new subject to write about. Something serious, something meaningful - something that can get her away from her the comedic writer box she has firmly been placed in due to the success of her war-time commentary under the persona of Izzy Bickerstaff. Out of the blue, Dawsey Adams writes to her as he has somehow come to possess a book she once owned and has fallen in love with it. However, given his location on Guernsey he is a little hard put to find other books and so has written to Juliet for help. This initial contact begins a friendly correspondence that blossoms into something far far bigger.

The narrative structure of this novel is that of a series of letters to and from an ever-increasing series of characters which I found to be very engaging but those who prefer a more straightforward narrative style might find it challenging. I loved the personal element to it - each character had a distinctive voice that I felt connected to throughout the novel - and I felt that despite the limiting nature of the narrative structure, nothing was lost in terms of storytelling. 

The writing in this book is wonderful and satisfies you in a way that a bowl of chicken soup does on a cold day. It's not overly flowery but describes the island extremely well - so well in fact that I can still see the mental image of it in my head 3 weeks after I finished reading it. Add to that the subject matter - entirely about reading and books and well hey. You've really got a winner on your hands. 

One of the most interesting things about this book was that it taught me something I had no idea about. I had no idea that the Channel Islands were occupied during WWII and I had no idea to what degree the inhabitants of the islands suffered under German occupation. It was a huge hole in my historical knowledge - I mean I have many of these sorts of holes but this one was about a time period I knew a fair amount about and in a place that is owned by my home country. But far from being depressing and downbeat, this novel manages to deal with the awful things that happened in an upbeat manner that focusses on hope and everyone pulling together. The people of the GLAPPPS are exactly the kind of people you would want to be stuck on an island with under those circumstances, should you have to be.

I absolutely LOVED this book. My one complaint was that it was too quick - I read it in 2 days - but then again I would happily read this one again, just not this copy as I need to get it sent on it's way to the next book-ring reader! If you've thought about reading this book but have been a little put off by the hype - don't be. It's worth every bit of the hype and then some. It's a gem of a book that I'll be putting on my "You have GOT to read this" list.


  1. Have to agree with every word. I highly recommended this book when i reviewed it. Love the historical detail, was obviously very well researched and I loved the sense of community that the islanders experienced, the shared terrible experience really bonding them together, all of the characters were so likeable. Just everything about it was fabulous. Go out and give a few copies to friends.
    thanks for sharing

  2. I really liked this book as well. It was cute and comforting in a way that bizarely war books can be. While I knew that the Channel Islands were occupied I didn't know a bot about them (think I watched an ITV drama series about it once).

  3. Martine - Thanks for the comment and for reading :) I'm on a crusade to find people who haven't read this and am sharing the love... it's that good!

    Jodie - Thanks you or the comment and reading :) I know what you mean about war books being bizarrely comforting, they so are... Makes me feel safe and warm and peaceful. I hope none of us ever have to live through a war!

  4. I am surprised to see that someone had the same experience as I regarding this book. I saw all the raves and ads and everything else about this book and still was not able to get it to the top of the reading pile for quite some time and then absolutely loved the book and wanted the characters to be real people that I could go and meet and have in my circle of friends. Amazing.