Monday, February 08, 2010

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


This was better than I expected, given its ubercute title, odd narrative structure, and overhyped back story. Did you know that the Channel Islands (located between France and England) were occupied by the Germans during World War II? I did not, before reading this book. Guernsey, along with Jersey, the largest channel island, and several other smaller islands, were occupied from 1940 to 1945. The citizens (the islands are British Crown Dependencies) suffered greatly under the occupation; many were deported to slave labor camps on the European continent, and shortages of food and medicine led to near starvation by the end of the war, and death by disease for many people.

This book is clearly well researched and tells the stories of a disparate group of islanders and how they coped with the occupation. The story is fiction but undoubtedly is based on fact. In the book a group of islanders forms a literary society as a way to conquer the intense boredom and frustration brought on by lack of contact with the outside world, but which also functions as a cover for resistance activities.

Here’s what I didn’t like: the literary gimmick of telling the whole story through letters between Juliet, a London-based writer and the various members of the literary society. Juliet is silly and a lot of time is wasted while we read about her social life. The islanders vary in their story-telling ability. Some are men of simple words, but others are loquacious nut jobs. Juliet does mature as the story evolves, and the plot advances, but I kept feeling like I just wanted someone to tell me what happened rather than forcing me to fool around with all these letters. But I am notoriously intolerant of alternate forms of story telling, so maybe this approach won’t bother you as much as it did me.

(Book 6, 2010)

10 comments:

Diane said...

I liked this book, but didn't love it as did many others. I think your review is right on target.

Amused said...

I loved this book and didn't expect too. I guess I was just surprised to read a book about WWII that didn't leave me depressed for once, that could focus more on the community coming together but I could see how the narrator could get annoying.

Jo said...

I enjoyed the letter format in this. I actually think thats what made the book, although I remember it taking a while to work out who was writing to who!

I did know the channel islands were occupied, but somehow I hadn't realised exactly what that meant for the islanders. That was interesting too.

Ms. Wis./Each Little World said...

I started that book and it instantly made me crazy. So I am glad to get your opinion on what it was really about and if it worked etc. (There was a pretty good Masterpiece Theater story about the occupation of the islands if I recall correctly. )

These days, one of the most famous hybridizers of Clematis plants lives on Guernsey. I am growing his Guernsey cream and it is lovely.

Becky Holmes said...

Amused, maybe the letter format has increased the book's popularity among people who might normally shy away from a WWII story. You are certainly not alone in avoiding this subject matter. I don't mind depressing WWII books, though there are plenty of other depressing topics I won't read about. To each her own, and if this format actually makes the book more approachable for some readers, I think that is good.

zoya said...

My friends gifted me this book for my birthday but I'm yet to read it. Btw your genre of books syncs with mine more or less.

Do drop in at my blog:

http://silvermists.wordpress.com

Serena said...

I liked the variety the letters provided and I loved that I learned something new about WWII. I had no idea that there were Channel Islands, let alone that they were occupied by the Nazis.

Barbara C. said...

Not everyone likes epistolary (big word) books. But there is much to be gained in listening to first person stories--even if it is basically fiction.
Have you read 84 Charing Cross Road?

Becky Holmes said...

Barbara, I loved 84 Charing Cross Rd.

UK said...

The author uses an unusual style that I enjoyed. The development of the plot and the characters as well as information about the German occupation of Guernsey Island during WWII was accomplished via the use of letters written among the characters in the story. Rather than the author directly describing characters and events to the reader, the reader becomes acquainted with them from a variety of viewpoints.

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