Have been reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. This is not something I would normally choose but was picked by my book club and proved to be surprisingly enjoyable. An endorsement on the cover from Elizabeth Gilbert had always caused me to run a mile from this book as I hate memoirs/self-help tomes that bash you over the head about teaching you a lesson.
As is obvious from the title, the book is set in Guernsey, but what may not be so obvious is that it takes place just after the island’s occupation by the Germans during the Second World War. Although I am English, this was something I knew very little about, and am ashamed to say that I knew nothing at all about the Todt workers, the slave workers sent over from Europe by the Nazis.
Despite these serious issues, the book also manages to be really funny, especially in the letters written by the heroine, Juliet Ashton. She manages to perfectly capture the tone of English sarcasm, no mean feat given that the book’s author, Mary Ann Shaffer, was American.
Living in New York I was particularly interested in Juliet’s impressions of her American suitor:
“He’s always had more than his fair share of what we call cheek and Americans call can-do spirit.”
Another reason I loved the novel is because the characters are passionate about reading, using the book club of the title as an escape from the horrors of Nazi occupation. As Eben Ramsay, one of the Guernsey residents, writes to Juliet:
“We clung to books and to our friends.; they reminded us that we had another part to us. Elizabeth used to say a poem. I don’t remember all of it, but it began “Is it so small a thing to have enjoyed the sun, to have lived life in the spring, to have loved, to have thought, to have done, to have advanced true friends? ” It isn’t.”
My only quibble with the book is that it is totally in the form of letters, but the only really distinctive voice is Juliet’s, so sometimes you get confused about which character is actually writing.
A reaction from the people of Guernsey can be found here.