Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Absolutely charming. Just like the title.

That should be enough information, but you want more, don't you? Fine.

What drew me into this book right off the bat was the voice. Or the voices. They are quirky, cheerful, entertaining, and varied, as the book is actually a collection of letters, written to, from, or about Juliet Ashton, a London writer emerging from the Second World War in desperate need of a new perspective. And she gets it, quite a few, actually, as she discovers the war-time history of Guernsey, an island which spent almost the entire war occupied by Nazi forces.

The characters are the second thing that drew me in. I loved them all, even the ones I hated, who were so much fun to hate. There is the butler posing as a lord, the pig farmer, the local eccentric, the spunky Englishwoman, the sour paragon of virtue, the collaborator, the noble Nazi, the escaped prisoner of war, the London publisher, and of course, Juliet. We get to know many of them in their own words.

There are glimpses of the grimness of war, and the particular grimness created by the Nazis, but they do not overwhelm the book. It is more a story of new beginnings, and finding hope, and overcoming. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society itself was born in an act of defiance, when a group of neighbors is discovered out drunk after curfew and invent a book club on the spot to cover their real activities, which had been a party to eat a contraband pig. To make the cover complete, they invite the soldiers to the next meeting, and a disparate group of farmers, misfits, and well-to-dos spend the rest of the war discovering each other, literature, and inventing potato peel pie. Juliet Ashton gets pulled into their world when she arrives post-war and adds her own dynamic to it.

Part historical, part romance, completely delightful.

Sadly, author Mary Ann Shaffer's health declined after she found a publisher, and it was her niece, Annie Barrows, an author in her own right, who did the revisions and polishing. It is truly a pity we can't look forward to more books by Shaffer, who undertook to write this novel in later life on the goading of her book club. They should have goaded her years earlier.

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