The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (hereafter to be known as the GLPPPS) was written by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, was published in 2008, and is 274 pages. It is an epistolary novel set in post-WW2 Europe in England and on the Channel Island of Guernsey. In it, writer Juliet Ashton begins a correspondence with a book club on Guernsey, and her letters eventually lead her to the island that changes her life.
I can’t keep the voice of the detached reviewer on for this book. I absolutely loved it. The book found me through many recommendations and bookstore sightings, until I finally ran into it on my way out of Borders. I opened up the front cover and found this excerpt:
“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.”
When a book speaks that loudly to me, I can’t refuse it. And I couldn’t put it down. It was the kind of book that made me angry at the doctor for running on time so I couldn’t keep reading it. It was the kind of book that made me seriously consider telling the babysitter that the doctor was running late so I could read it.
What I most loved about the GLPPPS was the skillful way in which the writers revealed their characters through the letters. The letters were from several different voices, often talking about the same events or people. It gave authenticity to the events and characters because of the different views. In writing, a reliable and likable narrator gives credibility to events in a story (think Nick in The Great Gatsby). The letters provided that voice.
The protagonist of the book, Juliet, was charming and endearing because of her humor, her flaws, and her exuberance. She reminded me of Austen’s Emma. She revelled in her own capriciousness and silliness, but her profound strength of character was revealed over and over again through her actions and the observations in the letters written by others.
What also made The GLPPPS so enjoyable for me was that it was a book about books–the protagonist is a writer, the members of the GLPPPS discuss their favorite books, and the book is bursting with beautiful little tributes to books. In Juliet’s letter to a man from the GLPPPS, she writes:
“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive…” (11-12)
And then, this, from a man on Guernsey to Juliet, about Shakespeare’s words and the day the Nazi’s invaded the island:
“‘The bright day is done, and we are for the dark.’ I wish I’d known those words on the day I watched those German troops land, plane-load of them–and come off ships down in the harbor! All I could think of was damn them, damn them, damn them, over and over. If I could have thought the words ‘the bright day is done and we are for the dark,’ I’d have been consoled somehow and ready to go out and contend with the circumstance…” (63)
Which leads me to the final and most important reason I loved this book: it served the true purpose of historical fiction in its depiction of a time and place in history I knew little about, with a cast of characters I cared so much about that it humanized the events for me. I knew nothing of the English Channel Islands before I read GLPPPS. I didn’t know that the Nazi’s occupied them during the war. I didn’t know about the grave injustices committed against the residents of the island. Now that I’ve read the book, a whole new window of history has opened to me, giving me a renewed appreciation and respect for the war veterans and survivors, and a feeling of gratitude for the time and place in which I live.
The only thing about the book that I did not like was that large, clunky title. Other than that, it was perfection. I insist that you read it.