In the last several years, I’ve read The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows & Mary Ann Shaffer at least three times. And each time, I fall in love with the quirky ensemble of characters all over again.
Written entirely in letters back and forth between the dozen or so characters, the timeline follows an author, Juliet, who by chance comes in contact with a group of readers on the island of Guernsey. The story takes place as the island – and England – are rebuilding after World War II, and the novel touches on the years of hardship and horror that the people experience, but does so with sensitivity and an eye for beauty. The authors’ love for the written word shines through the pages, and in true novel form – there is a happy ending for all.
“I can’t think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can’t talk to, or worse, something I can’t be silent with.” – p. 8
“Perhaps there is some secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” – p. 10
“No one in their right mind would take up clerking in a bookstore for the salary, and no one in his right mind would want to own one – the margin of profit is too small. So, it has to be a love of readers and reading that makes them do it – along with first dibs on the new books.” – p. 15
“She said the Queen doesn’t need to impress strangers, but I do.” – p. 17
“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books.” – p. 53
“I figure hunger makes you desperate when you wake to it every morning.” – p. 65
“I think you learn more if you are laughing at the same time.” – p. 89
“He’s the most un-hurrying person I’ve ever met.” – p. 167
“I did not want to spend my time reading about people who never was, doing things they never did.” – p. 71
What made this a good story? There are a myriad of characters, but you never confuse them – they are each painted with such a unique brush. Choosing to tell the story through letters gives the reader the actual words of the person saying them (er… writing them) and it helps to learn where each person is coming from and their motivations for how they live their lives. It’s also just a delightful tale: falling in love through a common joy found in a good book.
What could have made it a better story? While I love that the book is written in letters, it can be a bit tough as you dive in to keep straight who is writing to whom. This is possibly because I tend to skip the section headings and dive right into the letter, when really I should not. Perhaps a map at the beginning of the novel and a list of the principle characters and their relationship to Juliet would help.
Have you read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society? If so, what did you think?