Today’s “G” entry comes at a perfect time. I recently finished reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, an epistolary novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
Two things about the novel stand out for me: first, I never would have picked it out by myself, and second – I stayed up until 3am on a work night to finish it (something I did a lot in younger years, but which only happens now if I don’t notice the passage of time).
The novel consists of a series of “letters” between a London author and the residents of Guernsey island in the years immediately after World War II. The author, tired of painting happy-faces on war for her publisher’s benefit, is seeking a better subject to write about when she receives an unexpected letter from a Guernsey farmer who has come into possession of a used book with the author’s name plate in the front. Their correspondence quickly grows to include many others, including the author’s publisher/friend and the unique (some might say crazy) members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato-Peel Pie Society from which the book takes its name.
Although I love historical novels, I’m usually drawn to settings in the medieval and ancient world. I’m not much for World War II and an “epistolary novel” about the German occupation of Guernsey – seen in retrospect – is about the last thing I would choose to read on my own. But a couple of weeks ago I wandered into a Barnes & Noble with a couple of out of town friends and we saw the book on a table. My friend picked it up and said, “I’d been meaning to read this, I heard it’s great.”
“Really?” I said. “Interesting.” (Which, in my mind, translates to “Looks like a girly book to me. Where are the ones with swords?”)
She said she intended to read it when she got home, and something in her tone made me give it a second look. I’d been reading a lot of nonfiction lately, and not as many novels as I should. (As a writer – and also due to my day job – I can say that without being frivolous. It’s one of the many benefits of my profession and avocation.) So, for reasons I can’t explain, I bit the bullet and bought it.
The book sat on my end table for about a week, until I started the A to Z Challenge and realized that “G” would fall on a Friday, when I like to do book reviews. Realizing a good thing when I saw it, I picked up Guernsey Literary and Potato-Peel Pie Society and began reading.
And kept reading.
And the next thing I knew it was 3:20 am and I had just read the most entertaining novel I’d picked up in the last six months at least. I loved it. Shaffer and Barrows created a cast of distinctive voices, all unique, all different, and all entertaining. More importantly, they weave a light and compelling story about a subject which is anything but light, and tell a remarkably unified narrative through the eyes of multiple observers.
I can’t recommend it highly enough.
For once, I won’t even limit my review by saying “readers of X will like this most” because I’m anything but the books target audience and I absolutely loved it. If you read, or like reading, and want a book that will take you away from the present, make you laugh, and charm you even when you expected otherwise – this is the one. The letters are short, so it can be read in pieces if your reading time requires, but the divisions aren’t distracting if you read it in longer sittings.
Get it. Read it. Enjoy it.
As an interesting aside: Pam Torres (So I’m Fifty!) reviewed Annie Barrows’ middle grade novel The Magic Half yesterday – head over and check it out!
Have you read The Guernsey Literary and Potato-Peel Pie Society? Hop into the comments and add your thoughts.