Shaffer, Mary Ann and Annie Barrows. 2008. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Random House. 278 pages.
If you read many blogs, then chances are you've already come across this one dozens of times. It's a story--set in England in 1946--told through letters. Juliet Ashton is a writer. When the novel opens, readers meet Juliet as a writer on tour. (Her book, Izzy Bickerstaff Goes To War, was written under a pseudonym for a newspaper/journal, and the book is a collection of her war-time columns.) The book begins chiefly as correspondence between Juliet and her publisher, Sidney Stark, and her best friend, Sophie, Sidney's sister. But a letter from Dawsey Adams, a pig farmer, changes all that. He has written her asking her for a favor. He wants the name of a bookshop in London that will sell him books through the mail. He wants more books about Charles Lamb. You see, he owns her copy of the Selected Essays of Elia. In part, he writes,
Charles Lamb made me laugh during the German Occupation, especially when he wrote about the roast pig. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society came into being because of a roast pig we had to keep secret from the German soldiers, so I feel a kinship to Mr. Lamb. I am sorry to bother you, but I would be sorrier still not to know about him, as his writings have made me his friend. (9)Sensing he's a kindred spirit, she's happy to help him out. And a friendship is born--though she doesn't know how great a friendship this will be just yet.
It was a sad wrench to part with the Selected Essays of Elia. I had two copies and a dire need of shelf-room, but I felt like a traitor selling it. You have soothed my conscience. (10)
She then tells him how she came to discover Charles Lamb's books. She concludes by asking him,
If you have time to correspond with me, could you answer several questions? Three, in fact. Why did a roast pig dinner have to be kept secret? How could a pig cause you to begin a literary society? And most pressing of all, what is potato peel pie--and why is it included in your society's name? (12)Her interest in the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society deepens as the weeks and months go by. Soon she isn't just corresponding with Dawsey Adams, she's corresponding with half a dozen (at least) members of the reading group. And soon letters aren't enough, she feels the need to go there herself, to meet these new friends, to be a part of it all, to see for herself what makes Guernsey so special.
I loved everything about this one. The setting. The characters. The language and style. I felt Juliet to be a kindred spirit. I loved the way she talked about books as friends. That reading was something she was so passionate about. That making connections was so important to her. That friendships matter. There was something so charming about this one. (And yes, I know I say charming too much.)
I definitely recommend this one.
It was amazing to me then, and still is, that so many people who wander into bookshops don't really know what they're after--they only want to look around and hope to see a book that will strike their fancy. And then, being bright enough not to trust the publisher's blurb, they will ask the book clerk the three questions: 1) What is it about? 2) Have you read it? 3) Was it any good? (16)
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews