I have been in love with letters for as long as I can remember. There is something about correspondence on pen and paper that is truly magical. I know in the digital age you may argue that emails are the same thing, but they are not!
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, is an epistolary novel written by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows. This book is very close to my heart, one because the entire book in written in letters and two because it was recommended by a dear friend, who I think has a big hand in elevating my reading choices. It is fitting that I love this book, almost as much as I love her, because this book is about a book club and I met her through a book club. A book lover’s double whammy!
Now adapted into a motion picture, the novel is set in 1946, just after WWII and focuses on the German occupation of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, and the lives of its residents. For almost five years during the war, the residents lived in complete ignorance of what was happening with the war, who was winning or what would become of them. The island was cut off completely from England – no newspapers, no radio, no news and no food rations. Narrated through a series of letters exchanged between its many different characters, and the book is a delight to read with subtle British humour, touching records of the characters’ personal journeys and yes, even letters from cunning aunties who don’t approve of a certain woman and the friends she keeps.
Juliet Ashton, is the protagonist of the book, although I believe that the hero is going to be a different character for each reader, depending on who you identify the most with. Juliet is a London based author looking for a story worth telling, when she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a resident of Guernsey, ensued by friendships with a number of other Guernsey residents.
What I loved about the book, what kept me going, what had me wishing that this book never gets over, is its eternal optimism. While continuously talking about war, separation, broken relationships, missed opportunities and even death, not once does the book pull you down, but instead reinforces your faith in the fact that yes, in the end everything will find a way to work out and if it doesn’t, then you will find a way to make your peace with it and move on.
The Before, During & After with the Guernsey Book.
My favourite character by far is Isola Pribby, a Guernsey resident who is both quirky and clueless. A vegetable and herb vendor, Isola much like me has a knack for taking up random hobbies that she gets extremely involved in and then gives them up equally fast. The quote that describes her and probably even me perfectly is, “Isola doesn’t approve of small talk and believes in breaking the ice by stomping it.”
This book also introduced me to the German occupation of the Channel Islands, something I had no clue about. It highlighted the plight of the German soldiers, as much as did of the people occupied. Through the stories in this book, you discover how the need to survive eventually trumps human differences. That love can be found in unexpected places and as people we have much more than brings us together than what separates us.
There are many beautiful quotes in the book, but the one that comes back to me constantly is, “Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their readers. How wonderful if that were true.”
Read this book if you love letters, books and discovering new things.
Love Always, Z
P.S – This is the only book written Mary Ann Shaffer, as she died soon after. When she fell ill, her niece Annie Burrows, stepped in to help her complete this long cherished project, making her the co-author.
Some of my favourite quotes from the book:
- “I don’t want to be married just to be married. I can’t think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can’t talk to, or worse, someone I can’t be silent with.”
- “That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”
- “All my life I thought that the story was over when the hero and heroine were safely engaged — after all, what’s good enough for Jane Austen ought to be good enough for anyone. But it’s a lie. The story is about to begin, and every day will be a new piece of the plot. ”
- “I have gone to [this bookshop] for years, always finding the one book I wanted – and then three more I hadn’t known I wanted.”
- “Do you arrange your books alphabetically? (I hope not.)”