Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

“ I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island — boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.
Kailana's Thoughts:

I am very happy that I added this book in with my last online book order. There were three books that I really wanted that the brick and mortar stores around here were not carrying, so I was forced to order them online! This is a fun, but terrible thing. I always spend too much money! I am happy that those books were not available around here, though, or I would not have been lucky enough to acquire such an awesome book! It was worth the whole price of the order, that is for sure! It was a great experience. First I read Colleen and loved her book, and then I read this book and loved it! It will be hard to follow either of them up!

I really enjoy books that are not written in conventional ways. I like diary-style or letter-style, as this one is, to add a bit of variety to my reading. This book went above and beyond! I was a bit iffy at first. Just because lots of people love a book does not mean that will. Actually, more often than not it means that I won't like the book at all... So, when I started the first section I was a little worried that I was not going to get caught up in the story... I worried for nothing! I did things I haven't done in forever! I carried the book with me everywhere, I read by streetlights, I read while I was supposed to be watching a concert on television, etc. Remember that friend that I had just finished Colleen when they called? Well, they got to watch me walk around with this book the whole next day! I could rehash the plot and all that stuff, but this book is really making the rounds, so why tell you what everyone else is saying! I will just say that I am really glad that I read this book. It is totally one of my favourite reads of the year! I suggest that everyone take a chance on it, you will not be disappointed! I didn't even mind that I had the ending figured out pages before it actually happened. I still enjoyed every word!

Marg's Thoughts

This little book is the subject of quite a lot of attention at the moment, and I am going to join the chorus and say that it definitely deserves it!

I must confess that the first few times I saw this mentioned on blogs I completely skipped over it simply because, to me, the title suggested something very different from what it is actually is.

Julia Lambert has spent most of WWII writing witty newspaper columns under the name Izzy Bickerstaff, doing her part in keeping the spirits of Londoners up during the dark days of the Blitz. Now that the war is over, Julia wants to do something different. She doesn't want to be Izzy anymore but she doesn't know what she does want to write.

One day she receives a letter from one Dawsey Adams, who lives in Guernsey. He has found a book by Charles Lamb that used to be owned by Julia and he has written to her in the hope that she may be able to assist him in finding more books by that author. In his letter, Dawsey mentions that he is a member of the Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, and Julia's interest is captured. What is the Society? Where did the name come from and how did it start?

What starts as a simple correspondence about an author grows into a series of letters between not only Dawsey and Julia, but also several of the other islanders (some are members of the Society but others are not) and Julia, and soon she begins to feel as though these people are her friends. They also begin to tell her of how life was on the island during the German occupation which no other part of the British Isles experienced.

Soon Julia finds herself wanting to go to Guernsey to meet the people she has come to know. It doesn't take long before she is caught up in island life, and her life is further woven into the lives of her friends than she could ever have imagined she would be at the beginning of the book.

The characters are fun with lots of quirkiness, but there is a depth that is captured as well - the losses that they suffered, the separation from the children that were sent to the UK for their on safety, the hunger, the fear left from living under oppression.

The whole book is told in the format of letters, telegrams and notes between the characters.
when I started I really wasn't sure if that format would work for me, or if it would become a bit annoying by the end of the book, but the author(s) really did well at making the story flow within the limitations that this format necessarily gives to the structure of the novel .

I have been trying to think of a book to compare to this one, but I am really struggling. It is funny and charming, poignant, informative and there are probably numerous other descriptions I could use, but at its heart it is a really lovely story. The fact that I too wanted to go to Guernsey after finishing the book means that the characters not only captured Julia's heart, but also mine as a reader!

Just a couple of other thoughts on the cover and author. The covers for the Australian book is just so plain that if I had not heard of this book already I would never have even picked it up. It is interesting that in other places around the world, the author is given is Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, but here it is just Mary Ann Shaffer. There is a note in the back that explains that after submitting the original manuscript, Mary Ann Shaffer became ill, and so her niece Annie Barrows completed the book. Unfortunately Mary Ann Shaffer died before seeing her book published, which is both a shame for her, and for us as readers because her book is a lovely read and it would have been interesting to see if she could have followed it up with another great read.

I totally recommend this book to anyone, and ending up giving it the highest possible grade - 5/5 for this one!


  1. Glad you both loved this one as I did! I've been telling everyone about this little book - it is so wonderful. A lot of people are comparing it to 84 Charing Cross Road (which I have yet to read).

  2. I haven't read that one either Wendy. I will have to look that one up and see how it compares.

  3. Such wonderful reviews! Thank you Marg and Kailana. I've just added this to my shopping cart.

    And Kailana, I tend to feel the same way you do about books. When I hear people raving about something, I'll go out and get it and more times than not, be disappointed. I'm so glad to hear this isn't one of those disappointments!! Now I can't wait for it to come :]

  4. Great Reviews Marg and Kailana! I have yet to find anyone who hasn't liked this book. I am a fan of books told in diary/journal style and was drawn to this book knowing that. I also liked this book very much. I blogged about it here:


    I like your blog and will be checking back regularly. I've added it to my google reader.

  5. I've only seen one person who didn't like it, and she REALLY didn't like it at all! Other than that, all positive!

  6. I fell in love with this book!! Funny, I literally carried (and read) this book everywhere but the shower!

  7. I am glad I liked this book. I really didn't think I was going to, to be honest... I am glad I read it!