Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I’d heard that Mary Ann Shaffer's The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was a must-read for the summer, so I jumped into the long library queue. Once I actually got my hands on a copy, I had no idea what to expect.

Guernsey is written in epistolary form—not my favorite literary devise. Most of the correspondence involves Juliet Ashton. A successful wartime (WWII) columnist, Juliet unexpectedly becomes involved with the titular Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Intrigued by the organization, Juliet exchanges letters with members of the society.

Through these letters, Juliet discovers more about the society, the German occupation of the island, and the fate of many inhabitants. Meanwhile, she also corresponds with a girlhood friend, her publisher, and a would-be suitor.

Despite the seriousness of the subject matter—German occupation, prison camps, wartime casualties—the book has a light tone. It is a fast, entertaining, and easy read. Although Juliet is the main character, I—like Juliet—was more interested in the fate of one of the island’s inhabitants, Elizabeth. To be perfectly honest, I would have preferred to read a straight story about Elizabeth than Juliet’s letters. On the other hand, my interest in Elizabeth shows Shaffer succeeds in many respects.

Although far from a literary masterpiece, Guernsey is a book group favorite, and I can see why. It is an effortless read but also fodder for much discussion.

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