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

Shaffer cover
Shaffer, Mary Ann and Barrows, Annie. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. New York: Dial Press. 2009.

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

(Note: books are rated between one and five smiley faces, one being a book that I didn’t like all that much, and five being a book I loved.)

Okay: I have to fess up here. I didn’t check this one out of the library. I read a copy that was given to me as a gift. However, the library does have it (several copies), so you can check it out, that is, if I wasn’t (as I suspect) the last person in the world to read it. I have another confession to make: I have been a snob about this book for quite some time, basically because of the title. All right, and also its popularity (having been a member of the unpopular crowd in my school days, I am always somewhat suspect when it comes to popularity). But then, friends whose opinions I highly regard read it and said it was good, so I became a little more interested. Finally, a pen pal of mine sent me a copy, telling me she’d just read it and that, in her mind, Juliet (the main character) became me. Well, now (flattery and all that), who isn’t going to read a book when someone tells her she’s like the main character?

Anyway, I was wrong all around not to have read this book ages ago. It’s an epistolary novel (uh-oh. That makes me sound like an English professor. For those of you who speak, rather than teach, English, that means it’s written as a collection of letters). This is a form I have loved ever since reading Jean Webster’s Daddy Long Legs as a child. Unlike that book, though, we get letters from multiple people, a great way to develop characterization, and I love good characterization in a book. I want to feel I know the characters when I read, and I most certainly did with this book. Because the book is written as a series of letters, it has a little bit of everything: brotherly love, sisterly love, romantic love, joy, sorrow, misunderstanding…

A book like this, about a witty, intelligent, soft-hearted writer who befriends a group of people who had been cut off from the world during the German occupation of Guernsey in WWII, could have been sappy or maudlin or too cute. I am sure it would have been in the hands of a lesser author, but Mary Ann Shaffer (with the help of her niece Barrows, who finished up the final edits when Shaffer was dying and too ill to do so) was not a “lesser author.” She pulled the book off beautifully. I not only knew her characters: I fell in love with them. She reminded me of how extraordinarily tough life was over there right after WWII (something I tend to forget until I read novels or see movies about the era). She made me wish she were still alive to write more. In short, she wrote a wonderful little book. Somebody please remind me not to judge books by their titles next time I am inclined to do so. The last time I did that was with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love (another book I enjoyed immensely). Irony of ironies? Elizabeth Gilbert’s endorsement is right there on the cover of this paperback.

My friend who sent this to me (and yes, I am flattered to “be Juliet,” although not so sure I deserve the comparison) had one question. I don’t think I have a good answer. If you’ve read the book, perhaps you do: why were there never any letters from Juliet’s friend Sophie? I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.