Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Published: July 2008
Summary: Told through letters, this charming novel tells the story of a quaint Channel Island community’s harrowing experience during their WWII German occupation and the cheeky journalist who wants to tell their story.
Thoughts: I know I am 10 years late to this party and ashamed at how long it took me to read it, especially since it has been sitting on my bookshelf for YEARS. I recently saw the trailer for the movie, which served as catalyst for my finally reading it! I was really surprised that the story was told entirely through letters (again, I am really late and ill-informed to this party), and was initially skeptical that it would keep me engaged in the story, but I had no trouble being pulled into it pretty quickly. The main character, Juliet Ashton, is such a fun and likable voice. She is irreverent and witty and provides such a wonderful contrast to the reserved characters she is surrounded by. I was so impressed by how much I felt like I knew Juliet through her style of writing letters to the various people in her life. Maybe I am not familiar with the art that was letter writing and how textured they could be! It almost makes me want to take up with letter writing. As Juliet navigates her single life in a post-war London and begins to correspond with the salt-of-the-earth community members of Guernsey, the letters really prove to be an exceptionally effective way for various individuals to share snippets about their own experiences with the occupation during the war. All of the stories have a layer of sadness casting a film over them, but there were stories that shared how these people managed to maintain their dignity, build lasting relationships, learn about themselves and others, and of course there were stories about horrific events they endured. Just when you finished reading a letter with the saddest and most inhuman story shared, you would get the chance to read how another person duped the Germans in a quirky way or you would get to read about Juliet avoiding a playboy who was trying to win her over. This book will speak to your whole person–it has a little bit of everything in it. Additionally, the book covers members of a Literary Society, and it was so gratifying to read how literature and poetry became a life preserver and a source of strength for these varying individuals during a most trying time. This was just such a delightful read that will leave you satisfied. I cannot wait to see how it is adapted to the silver screen. Lily James is one of my favorites and I am sure she will make an excellent Juliet Ashton.
The way this story came to be is also quite interesting, and I remember grumblings about it when the book was first published. You’ll notice this book has two authors, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. At the end of the book there is an explanation of how this story was written. Mary Ann was Annie’s aunt, who was known in her family as the ultimate storyteller. She was always telling stories and working on writing her stories down. She never had a project come to fruition, but when she visited Guernsey and discovered their compelling history, she found inspiration and began writing this book. During that process, Mary Ann grew ill and was unable to complete, but sought out the help of Annie, who had a career as a children’s book author. Annie picked up where her aunt left off, finding it easy to seamlessly continue the story because she grew up with her aunt’s story and was greatly influenced by her voice. The book was published in the same year that Mary Ann passed away.
P.S. If you liked this book, be sure to read Annie Barrow’s other adult novel, The Truth According to Us.