The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Society

41+Rq4l8szL__AA260_Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Publisher: The Dial Press, August 2008
Number of pages: 274
Rating: 5 out of 5

I’ve seen this book praised on blogs for about a year. I even bought one for Bookfool‘s birthday. But, every time I’ve picked it up to read myself, I’ve put it down again; I don’t like books written in letter format.

When my dear friend down the street brought it over before we went to Costco to pick up a birthday cake for her husband, I thought, “Now I’ll have to read it because Carol gave it to me, and I don’t want to disappoint her.” Believe me, I read the first few pages kicking and screaming.

But, I am here to tell you it is worthy of every accolade you have heard tell about it. Another WWII story? Yes. Written in letters? Yes. Charming, heartfelt, living and breathing characters who make you want to be their friends in real life? Yes!

I am completely charmed by the inhabitants of Guernsey: Dawsey Adams, Amelia Maugery,  Isola Pribby, Eben Ramsey, Adelaide Addison, Clovis Fossey, John Booker, Will Thisbee, and most especially Elizabeth McKenna and her daughter Kit.

Through these letters, we are shown the spirit of Elizabeth: one of great heart and compassion, one of courage and boldness. It is as much a story of Elizabeth as it is the recipient of the islanders’ letters, Miss Juliet Ashton.

Their lives merge when author Juliet Ashton embarks upon a trip to Guernsey to see for herself what the Literary Society is all about; how each member speaks of a book they have read at one of their meetings, and then debates are often held for hours.

For every book lover, for every believer in the arts as well as the overall goodness of humankind, this book is for you. It’s the best book I’ve read all summer. If only I could have met Elizabeth in real life.

I am talking to you about Elizabeth McKenna. Didn’t you ever notice how everyone you interviewed sooner or later talked about Elizabeth? Lord, Juliet, who painted Booker’s portrait and saved his life and danced down the street with him? Who thought up the lie about the Literary Society-and then made it happen? Guernsey wasn’t her home, but she adapted to it and to the loss of freedom. How? She must have missed Ambrose and London, but she never, I gather, whined about it. She went to Ravensbruck for sheltering a slave worker. Look how and why she died.

Juliet, how did a girl, an art student who had never held a job in her life, turn herself into a nurse, working six days a week in the hospital? She did have dear friends, but in reality she had no one to call her own at first. She fell in love with an enemy officer and lost him; she had a baby alone during the  war time. It must have been fearful, despite all her good friends. You can only share responsibilities up to a point.” (p. 201)

29 thoughts on “The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Society”

  1. This is, indeed, a charming book, but what made it interesting to me was the depiction of the occupation of the Channel Islands (I mean, we just don't learn about things like that in history classes here), and the deliberate, almost gentle, way the horrors are revealed. How is it possible to get on with the mundanities of daily life under the burden of an unvoiced dread?…I would have liked to have met Elizabeth too…


  2. I haven't been kicking and screaming in resistance, it just hasn't really called my name yet. I got this one for my step-mom for Christmas and she kind of gave me the "eh" (she's pretty tough to please). She passed it back to me–for keeps or borrow, I'm not sure–but it's been sitting on my floor for months. I'm pretty neutral towards epistolary novels, but I do like the premise of thise one. One of these days–especially with your strong backing!


  3. The premise of this book has always sounded good but then with all the hype and over the top reviews I lost my interest. After your good review I will have to add it to my wish list.


  4. I had a hard time imagining that a book with this strange name could be so good. But earlier this year, I listened to it on audio (where the characters all have different narrators!!!!) and FELL IN LOVE. A little sweetness, and little love, alot of humor, a little serious WWII stuff…I was literally smitten. I wanted to move to Guernsey. I'm so glad you fought off the little devils pulling you away from this wonderful book and took the plunge. It will no doubt be one of my top 10 for the year!


  5. I steered clear of this book for a long time, thinking it was "commercial" just because a lot of people seem to have read it and liked it (shame on me). But a blogger whose taste I trust really loved it, so I caved and purchased a copy a couple months back. Will be reading it soon.. SO glad you loved it, as I trust your taste, too.Btw, I have So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore on my tbr, purchased it last year but still haven't gotten to it.. I should!


  6. You know, for the title alone, i would have bought it. Also I'm always attracted to any books referring to ww2, whether in poetry or in witnessing or from an historical viewpoint. Like you I'm not big on letter writing book content, and so far never read it in that format, but this time, if I see the book, I'm buying it. Thanks for the review, you've made a fan out of me. But then again I'm a fan of yours and Booky's 😉


  7. Claire, phew~ I'm glad you trust my taste, too! 😉 You're the third person who's asked about So You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore in the past week. I started reading it last night, and as you know, it's not a long read so I'll have a review up in a day or so. It's turning conventional Christianitiy, what I've always been taught, on it's head in quite a few places. It'll be so interesting to discuss.


  8. ds, a friend of mine and I were just saying at lunch yesterday how poorly we were taught History, and, I might add, Geography. I had no idea where Guernsey was! What an idiot! I like how you said the gentle way the horrors were revealed, because surely they were there, but the grace and hope never left us. That's surely some gifted writing. I'm glad you felt the same way about Elizabeth.


  9. You gotta love mother in laws! Actually, in my 40s (and the second time around, I do!) I'd love to know what you think of it if you ever get around to reading it; after awhile the letter format seems to disappear and you're just caught up in the story.


  10. I've not really gotten in the habit of listening to books on tape (somehow, I'm not such a good auditory learner) but I can see how that would make the characters seem even more alive than they do in their letters! Maybe I should buy it on disc for my new car.


  11. I'm a fan of yours, too, Lorraine. But, I normally steer clear of WWII. That topic, and all the stories taking place in the Middle East books, are wearing thin with me. Although that sounds so terribly callous. I guess I mean that I've just read enough of those two subjects for awhile. A long while.


  12. Oh, wow, I can't believe it's been nearly a year since you bought my copy!! I still haven't read it! I went and fetched my copy, though, and I'll make it one of the first books I read when I'm off the ARC treadmill. So glad you enjoyed it! Our history and geography are definitely lacking in the US, although I did know about the Channel Islands from another read; the islands have been on my wish list of places to go for around 10 years.


  13. Bookfool, wouldn't it be fun to visit them? You heard about both the Channel Islands, and this great book, long before I did!Booklogged, Elizabeth is definitely my hero! I so admire someone that courageous and I secretly admire her rather irreverent side…with a daring sense of humour. Wonderful personality trait!


  14. Bellezza,It would, indeed. I believe the British name for what we call a sweater takes its name from the island of Jersey. There are actually 5 islands, but 4 of them fall under the "bailiwick" of Guernsey and Jersey is a separate bailiwick, whatever that means! I looked that up because you said "both" and I thought I remembered 5 islands. Maybe they're like counties or states? I wish I could remember where on earth I read about them. I know I've read about the concrete bunkers built during WWII. Argh, it's really going to drive me nuts. Is it possible to read so many books that they all blend together like . . . uh, frosting? LOL


  15. Mary really enjoyed this one. I got it for her, along with many other books, for Christmas and she just got to it about a month or so ago and was very taken by it. She shared quite a bit about the book and it does sound like a winner. I'm glad I trusted bloggers advice and picked it up for her.


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