Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Reasons for reading: liked the sound of it; it's one of those It Books this year; book club selection; New-to-Me Author for Triple 8 Challenge
Book description: "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."
My thoughts: The word that kept running through my head as I read this book was "charming." It also reminded me a lot of 84, Charing Cross Road, which I really enjoyed last year. I'm wavering between 4.5 and 5 stars, but I decided to go for 5 because I really enjoyed it. The only thing that would make it lose 1/2 a star is that towards the end I found it, for lack of a better word, wobbled a bit - I wasn't 100% sold on the part Isola's notebook played in the ending,for example. But that's a fairly minor quibble.
Heather J asked: Did the letter writing format work for you? Does it live up to all the hype I've been hearing about it?
Yes, I enjoyed the letter format. But I've always been a fan of epistolary novels. One of the women in my book club said she found it a bit hard to follow at times. But I thought it was really wonderful the way Juliet could communicate and become friends with the Guernsey folks through letters, before she'd met them. And also, it fits the time period. Obviously, there was no e-mail, but even phone technology wasn't all that advanced in the 40's, plus I'm sure the war had knocked a lot of it out. The older British folks I know still treat the phone as an expensive luxury, actually. It also works as a way to bring together all of the characters - I think a Juliet chapter, then an Isola chapter, then a Sidney chapter, etc. would've been rather boring. The letter format really makes it seem like things are unfolding in real time.
I do think it lives up to the hype. We were trying to decide at book club why it has such hype, and came up with some theories. I think it's that the title really stays in your memory and that it's about the love of reading and bookish people like bookish books. Another club member pointed out that Eat Pray Love's Elizabeth Gilbert did the blurb, which is pretty huge. As I said, I found it charming and also feel it has a bit of everything - lots of humour, interesting characters, romance, history, and some tragic tales to go along with the lighter ones. I think also that people (like me!) don't know much about the German occupation of the Channel Islands, so that makes it even more interesting than other novels set in the same period.