Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Mary Ann Shaffer and Anne Barrows - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

+Bloomsbury Publishing
@Dial Press
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Juliet Ashton has written one biography of Anne Bronte and one book called 'Izzy Bickerstaff Goes to War'.  This book was a great success and Ashton is on a book tour through England.  She is not happy about the subject of her third book and is on a hunt for a new topic to write about.  

It is somewhere after 1945.  The war is over, but there are still too many scars.  There is evidence of bombings all around and things are still scarce.

Just then, she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams.  He happens to own a second hand book of the Selected Essays of Charles Lamb which once belonged to Juliet Ashton.  He is a pig farmer in Guernsey and they do not have too many ways of getting books.  He wants a favor from her; he wants her to give him an address of a bookstore which will be able to supply more books by Charles Lamb.

Kind-hearted Juliet provides him with an address and also speaks to the bookseller on his behalf. She also sends him a book of letters by Charles Lamb.  She is intrigued when he mentions that he is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  Her curiosity is amply rewarded when she learns all about the Society and the circumstances it was formed in. She makes friends with all the core members of the Society and corresponds with all of them.

Over a period of time, through letters, she gradually learns of the trials and tribulations of their time under German Occupation. The horror, restrictions, hunger and privations they had to suffer are revealed to Juliet, and to us.  In fact, their founder member is still under detention somewhere in Germany.

Only thing left for her to do is to go and visit her new found friends and decide how best she can write a book on what she has learned about the German Occupation of Channel Islands.  The book is not merely about the war.  It is also about books and the wonderful classical authors, the Bronte sisters, Charles Lamb, Seneca and Jane Austen.  It is a beautiful meta-book about books.  We can feel goosebumps when we read how Wuthering Heights affected a first time reader. 
When Cathy tapped on the window, I was gripped by the throat.
It is about war, how human spirit endures despite all odds. It is about how a bunch of people in the boondocks find solace in reading wonderful works of literature.  It is about how love heals everything.

I am picking out the list of characters that has appeared on the wikipedia page of the book.

  • Juliet Ashton, author and protagonist 
  • Dawsey Adams, her first Guernsey correspondent and close friend 
  • Sidney Stark, Juliet's London-based publisher and friend 
  • Sophie Strachan, Sidney's sister and Juliet's best friend 
  • Amelia Maugery, Guernsey resident, hostess of the dinner party that started the society 
  • Eben Ramsey, Guernsey resident, important member of the Society 
  • Will Thisbee, Guernsey resident, creator of the first potato peel pie 
  • Isola Pribby, Guernsey resident, quirky society member and vegetable and herb vendor 
  • Elizabeth McKenna, a London-born young lady who was caught on Guernsey at the war's outset. She is the quick-witted founder of the society 
  • Remy Giraud, a Frenchwoman, friend of Elizabeth in a German concentration camp 
  • Kit McKenna, Elizabeth's adorable, ferret-loving daughter

The characters are absolutely adorable, all of them. There are several villains, especially the Germans. But there are some good Germans in this and some wicked Guernsey residents also.

Towards the end, the story does become a bit cheesy. There is a sweet little cheesy love story in here. But the way it is told is unique.
You see, the book is narrated in the form of letters.  An epistolary novel is not a novelty, but it has fallen into disuse.  However, in the capable hands of Mary Ann Shaffer, it is turned into a wonderful way to tell a tale.  The story is narrated bit by little bit.  One nugget revealed by one letter is explained a little later after a query by the protagonist (Juliet Ashton).  The true import of an incident sinks into our minds later when it is expanded upon further.

It is in this enticing way that we learn about this wonderful connection between Juliet Ashton and the members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.  It is also about the relationship between Juliet and her fast friends Sidney Stark and Sophie Strachan.

In short, it is a lovely little nugget of a book which should not go unread by lovers of fiction.


Madhulika Liddle said...

This sounds wonderful! I could just imagine it... thank you for telling us about this, Ava. I'd never even heard of it. Am off to add it to my wishlist ASAP.

Ava Suri said...

It is wonderful. Don't just put it on the wishlist, read it!

Madhulika Liddle said...

I will. :-)

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