WBN 73: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

After my last blog post I needed something instantly and overwhelmingly feelgood to read – and boy, did I get it with this. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is the story of Juliet, an author who is in need of a new project. When she gets a letter from a man named Dawsey Adams, who lives on Guernsey and is a member of the aforementioned society, she becomes engaged in a flurry of letter-writing with all the members of the society which culminates in a visit to the island. Set in 1946, the story of German occupation in Guernsey unfolds slowly through the voices of the islanders.

I was a bit wary of this book. When the list was released, I scoured it for books that I thought might have made it on purely because they were big hits at the time, and would be forgotten in, say ten years time. It’s a kind of recency effect – you know, like when a music channel does a top 100 albums countdown and number 1 just happens to be a huge debut from some super cool band that was only released 6 months ago. Seeing that Twilight wasn’t on the list (nothing against it but it won’t be huge in 200 years a la Austen) I was reassured, but this one looked like a ‘recency effect’ contender.

The story is told through the letters that Juliet sends and receives whilst she is researching Guernsey and the Society. Slowly, she learns more and more about how the occupation affected Guernsey, and the islanders share with her the story of Elizabeth, a young girl who isn’t a ‘true’ islander but who has had a real impact on their community. Elizabeth founded the society, fell in love with a German, gave birth to a daughter and was arrested for hiding a prisoner of war. She was taken away to the continent and her daughter was raised by the Society. As Juliet gets to know the other Society members – they tell her stories both of the war and of their literary heroes – she gets to know Elizabeth through their eyes.

The story isn’t exactly at thriller pace. It’s leisurely and gentle, but Juliet and certain of the islanders have such distinctive voices and stories that you’re drawn in all the same. Juliet is opinionated, witty and likeable and you’re with her from the start. To hear the Society talk of their discovery of books that they love is a little clichéd, but heart warming all the same. Many of the characters are mere sketches, whilst just the central few are more developed. Juliet’s bestie Sophie in particular is nothing more than a stick figure to whom Juliet can pour out her innermost feelings.

The book is charming and lovely and comforting and heartwarming. It’s not huge on character development, or plot, or philosophy, but then it’s not supposed to be. And it’s not the book’s fault that it was voted on to the top 100 list: that just proves that those things aren’t necessary for a book to touch people.

Will people still be reading this in 200 years time? I doubt it. But if they did, I like to think they’d still enjoy it.

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Filed under Books, World Book Night challenge

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