Friday, March 20, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

From Suko to Readers

Dear Readers,

I have a confession to make, and the sooner I get it off my chest, the better. I admit that the outlandish title of this book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, left me wondering if I'd ever actually read it. Many recommended this book to me, but I couldn't get past the awkward sounding, eight-word title. Guernsey brought to mind that special breed of cows--not anything to do with books or literary circles-- and it took me a while to even be able to recite the title properly. Furthermore, potato peel pie, quite frankly, sounded utterly unappealing to me, and I wondered if the book held any appeal for me at all. But, because this book received so many glowing reviews, I knew I'd read it--eventually. And I'm glad that I made the effort recently. Now I realize that the title is just right--its very oddness is wonderful--and I don't stumble over the title words quite as much.

An interesting, well-written letter is worth it's weight in gold, especially in this age of email and instant messages. Published in 2008, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a set of letters from Juliet, a writer in London, to the other characters in the book, many of whom live in Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands (part of Great Britain but located in the English Channel, close enough to see mainland Europe with the naked eye). This is an epistolary book, a novel written as a series of documents, letters in this case. (I wish I could write such dramatic letters!) Written with ample warmth and humor, these letters form a novel that's an original celebration of books and the written word, and of human connection. (Letters are an engaging, creative way to tell a story. I enjoyed reading West From Home by Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose, which is also a series of letters. What other books are composed solely of letters?)

In this sensational novel, written by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows, the title literary club is formed, literally, in self-defense. During World War II, Guernsey was occupied by the Germans for five years, who, among other things, imposed strict curfews on the villagers. Caught heading home past curfew after an illegal dinner of roast pork, an assorted group of islanders form The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—out of the need for an immediate alibi. In order to validate their claim, the members of this newly formed literary group decide to hold actual subsequent meetings (sometimes featuring desserts such as potato peel pie, the only pie they could make with the scant supplies available). To their surprise, especially since several of the members had never read much before, the club soon ignites a genuine love of reading and books, as well as some intense literary debates.

As London emerges from the shadow of World War II in 1946, writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. She is contacted by a native of Guernsey, who has discovered her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb. As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the intriguing world of this man, Dawsey, a pig farmer, and other members of the book club who also write to her. Juliet begins a prolific correspondence with the society’s members--charming them (and us!) with her marvelous letters--and learning about their island, their book preferences, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sails to Guernsey, and the course of her own life is greatly altered.

I absolutely adore this line from the book, and although it is on the inside book jacket, I will repeat it here because it is superb:

"Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers."

That is exactly how I felt about this book: that it was precisely what I needed to read. This happens to me fairly often. I pick up a book and quickly realize it's what I need to be reading, that it has significance and relates to my life in some way in an almost uncanny manner. In this instance, it's significance was mostly due to all the "book talk".

If you have read this book, have an interest in reading it, or have a comment related to something else in this post, I would enjoy hearing from you. As always, thank you for reading.

Yours sincerely,


  1. I really enjoyed that book. The title cracks me up! I would not have ever picked that one myself. My friend recommended it. A very good read!

  2. I've been seeing a lot of glowing reviews for this book too. I'm still thinking whether I should read it :). Happy weekend too!

  3. Allie, I'm glad you also enjoyed this novel.

    Mee, I don't think you'd be disappointed if you read this book.

  4. An enticing review that makes me want to run to the bookstore to buy the book, despite its awkward title (or maybe because of it).

  5. To Rudy and Anon from Suko

    Dear Rudy and Anon,

    This is definitely a book worth reading! Thank you for your comments.

    Yours sincerely,

  6. I'm the one who recommended the book to Allie. It's one of my favorite reads from 2008, one I actually own. Thanks for reminding me what a great book it is!

  7. Christie, I think you also recommended it to me last year.

  8. Hi Suko,
    This sounds like such a good read...a book I Need to read! Thank you.

  9. Hi Suko! I am mostly like you. I would be daunted by that title. But am tickled to hear that the book was a worthy read. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Mervat and Kim,

    This is truly a wonderful novel.


    I bought this book with the Amazon certificate you awarded me. Thanks again!

  11. Very interesting summary Suko. I don't read as much as I used to, because I am barely taking mass transit, but your words about there being a reason and significance to why you are reading a particular book at a moment in time ring particularly true. Books are gems that do transport you to another consciousness, and in the process alter yours, usually expanding it to dimensions that one may have left behind or simply never actualized. I agree with you that reading does make a person more empathetic, as reading opens up a plethora of emotions that constitute being more fully human. Thanks for a wonderful book review. I look forward to reading more of your delightful writing!

  12. Thank you, Karen. Your comments are very insightful, and kind!

  13. I also enjoyed this book. I just read it last month, our book club is reading it this year and I decided not to wait until its assigned month. I lived on the Orkney Islands (just north of Scotland) for about 5 months and reading about Guernsey took me back to those small islands. I am glad you listed some books to read. I think I will check them out.

  14. Karla, how lovely to live on the Orkney Islands! Thanks for your comment.

  15. I am currently half way through with this book. I completely love it-thanks for your very insightful review. I will read your review a second time after I have completed the book, it will be my first September read.

  16. Thanks, Mel. Isn't it a great book? I look forward to reading your review.


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