The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Source: Borrowed from mom (Slovenian translation).
Genre: Historical fiction.
January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb…
As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.
Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.
I don’t often read historical fiction unless it involves ball gowns and dashing dukes (aka historical romance). But my mom recommended Guernsey and I sometimes actually listen to her, so I decided to read it – and was very pleasantly surprised. Guernsey Literary is a great book, one of my (increasingly rare?) five-star/heart reads, and I can’t recommend it enough.
(A note, I think the two authors are there because one started the book, couldn’t finish it herself because of some medical issues, and asked the other to do it. It doesn’t diminish the quality of the writing in any way. It’s superb.)
It’s written entirely in the form of letters. If that’s interesting to you, go for it. If you don’t like epistolary novels, give it a try anyway, it’s really that good. Letters need to be very carefully thought out if the plot is going to work, and I think the authors did very well with keeping all the voices of the characters separate (and keeping track of events and who knows what and all). Of course, the letters are longer (and include some dialogue, for example) than they would be if they were real, actual letters, but I wasn’t bothered by this because the story sucked me in so much.
The characters are fantastic. Julia, the main character, is this unconventional reporter who made a name for herself writing cynical articles during WWII, and is now intrigued by the existence of Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (and who wouldn’t be?), and makes her way to the tiny Channel island of Guernsey. Dawsey’s (the main male character’s) letters were a treat to read, you really get the sense that he’s a calm, thoughtful person, and when Julia meets him in person, that’s exactly how he is. I loved getting to know the characters both through their own letters and through the descriptions the others write in theirs.
The people of Guernsey are distinctive, interesting, and funny without being mere caricatures. I guess in such a closed setting, it would be easy to fall into cliches, but the authors avoided that by creating beautifully rounded characters who each shed light on the events of the war years.
Now, WWII is a major theme here. I admired the authors’ way of talking about some very serious topics – they kept things light but meaningful, there is never the sense that the war merely serves as a backdrop for the current events. The atrocities of war, the sacrifices made (*spoiler in white* those scenes where the people of Guernsey describe how they sent their children away to England to keep them safe nearly broke me, people. It’s one of my triggers lately, children being in difficult situations, and this hit me hard. But it was so thoughtfully, beautifully done, I was in awe. *end spoiler*), the authors deal with them all. The characters each found their way of pushing through, of somehow coping with the ugly reality, and it’s amazing to see how they managed.
I don’t know what else to say to convince you to read this. I kind of want to journey to Guernsey myself, explore the funny little island, and learn its history. I know I’ll be recommending Guernsey Literary to anyone who wants a meaningful read and re-reading it soon. Oh, and I read the translation (by Miriam Drev), which was great. I’m always conscious of how works are translated but here, I barely noticed it at all.
Have you read Guernsey? What did you think?
Do you have any other good historical recommendations (that aren’t purely historical romances)?
I’d love to hear from you! :)