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

Bloomsbury | 2008 (edn read: 2010) | 256p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie BarrowsIt is 1946 and the war is over but for many, for most even, it’s still uppermost in the mind. Juliet Ashton is a popular writer, living in London and surrounded by bomb craters. Her own home was one of many to be obliterated. She’s trying to rebuild her life. When the Times offers her space for an article about reading, Juliet wavers about how to focus it but the answer comes in the shape of Dawsey Adams of Guernsey. Dawsey has just bought a book by Charles Lamb that once belonged to Juliet, her name and old address written within. They have a mutual appreciation for Lamb but as they swap letters to and fro, Dawsey tells her about his book club, the Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Peel Society, which was founded quite by accident during the German occupation of the island.

As letters from other members of the society follow, Juliet knows that she must visit Guernsey, she must attend the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society for herself. This is what she must write about, how reading drew people together during the darkest of times. But it isn’t long before Juliet realises that what she knows about this Society is only the half of it. The truth is astonishing.

I was so lucky to be invited to an early screening of the new movie The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society but disappointingly circumstances prevented it. It was so lovely, then, when the book turned up in my letterbox instead and last Saturday I picked it up and read it in one glorious sitting. Then, full of the mood of it, I went to see the film. I really enjoyed the film but the book…. oh, the book!

There are so many reasons why this book stole my heart and will become one of those rare lifelong favourites. The writing is utterly beautiful. This is a novel of letters, many of which are written by Juliet but not all, and they each retain the distinct personality of their author, often humorous, moving, light or shockingly dark. They are all so exquisitely written and full of life.

They tell so many stories, reflect so many relationships, such as that between Juliet and her publisher and close friend Sidney – how I loved Sidney. And I really adored how the novel moves between the trivial and the significant, the little details and the momentous moments, the comic and the deeply tragic. And we care so much because the characters are all stunningly portrayed. They are wonderfully real, whether they’re Juliet’s friends on the mainland or the members of the Society.

The story is skilfully told. We learn through the letters the truth of the German Occupation and we see its legacy, in the broken families, the damaged people and in the parentless children. This Guernsey community is putting itself back together again. Juliet arrives as an outsider but soon she is pulled into their hearts and we are pulled in alongside her.

I can’t do justice to this stunningly gorgeous, enchanting novel. I didn’t want it to end. It gives and gives. The humour is so delicious. There are some laugh aloud moments here and then there are the other moments when I cried and cried. There is nothing here that I want to give away – read it and immerse yourself in this wonderful novel.

I really enjoyed the film. Lily James is perfect as Juliet and any film with Tom Courtenay and Penelope Wilton is one to watch. Elizabeth couldn’t have been better cast with Jessica Brown Findlay. There are changes from the book as you’d expect and I did have to hold my tongue at certain bits of it but I loved this visualisation of Guernsey (even though I recognised it as being Clovelly!) and the historical setting is so well done. The film is true to the spirit of the novel and it did make me cry and smile, just as the book did. I’m so glad that I read the book first, though, because if I had seen this lovely film first I might not have read the book and that would not have been a good thing. It’s a short book, quickly read, so do try and fit it in as well as watching the film.

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