When the title of a book is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, you can’t help but be a little judgmental. This New York Times Bestseller, written by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, is a novel about the lives of those in German-occupied Guernsey after World War II.
The novel centers around Juliet Ashton, a British author trying to get back on her feet in post-World War II England. Because of the war, she decides she wants to take a different direction for her new book and promptly receives a letter from a friend on the island of Guernsey (off the east coast of England), requesting a novel the friend knows Juliet has. Juliet then travels to Guernsey and embarks on a rather eye-opening journey. Her trip gives her inspiration for a new novel, in which she becomes one of her own characters.
A rather short read, this novel is composed entirely of letters, not chapters. The letters are addressed to and from Juliet Ashton to her editor, Sidney Stark, and to and from others, particularly the citizens of Guernsey. There are so many tales within the novel that at some points it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on, and the reader is forced to re-read several letters before they understand what is happening in the book. However, it is the multitude of stories piled into one book that make The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society such a fun read.
Shaffer and Barrows’ writing style throughout the novel is simple and entertaining. They make the story hard to put down. Once you start it, you have to finish it, because there isn’t a good place to stop. Since there aren’t any chapters in the book, the story just goes on and on. The novel is instead divided into two parts, which gives the book a better flow than having chapters would. In fact, it wouldn’t be such an effective read had it been divided into chapters. With 274 pages of decent-sized print, the book is a breeze to read.
The entire novel is written in first person, which serves to draw the reader in and let them personify each character, British accents and all. With each new letter, a new person is writing, therefore introducing a new character. Since there is no outside description of the characters, the reader must have the creative ability to form the characters however they wish. The problem with the use of first person and letter format is that the reader, if not reading carefully, can get very confused very quickly.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is one of the best books I’ve read in the last year. It’s a wonderful historical fiction novel focusing on events following World War II that people might not think about on a daily basis. I felt as if I knew the characters in the book, and I was drawn in from page one. A fast read for any summer vacation or rainy weekend, this novel leaves the reader wanting to move to Guernsey and join the Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, no matter how strange the name may sound at first.