Today I have something a bit different from the norm; A book review of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Ann Shaffer and Annie Narrows. Why, I hear you shout, is he doing a book review? the answer to which is simple. I was born and raised on the little island of Guernsey where this book is set. Before this novel came along, people here in the US would ask which part of England I was from when they heard my accent. In the past when I said “Guernsey” I would get a blank stare and have to explain where it was (yeah, that was fun for about the first four weeks). Now when I mention the island I get asked if I have read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and how accurate is it.
After being asked for the umpteenth (anyone know where the umpteen key is?) time I decided it would probably be a good idea to actually read the thing. Here are my thoughts.
Disclaimer: I have tried to keep out any spoilers but there may be a few things in the following that could spoil the surprise.
The story begins in January of 1946, one year after the liberation of Guernsey from the occupying Nazi forces. Writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. This letter is to be the beginning of a remarkable tale which finds Juliet being drawn to the little island and it’s quirky inhabitants.
One of the interesting and unique things about this book is the style in which is is written. The whole story is told through letters and correspondence between Juliet and the other main protagonists. This makes for an interesting format which at certain times can get a little confusing. The book however is very easy reading and draws the reader in. I have heard some fellow Guerns complain about the characters not be an accurate representation. I would argue that they are only saying that because at certain points it comes a little too close to the truth. I can say from having been born and raised on guernsey that I have met every single one of those people. We’ve all known an Isola Pribby at some point in our lives (she was my favorite character).
Too answer the question I always get asked about accuracy I will say this. The book is not a historical document and there has been a good amount of artistic license used. It is, after all, a fictional work. Having said that I can say that the authors have painted a wonderful picture of Guernsey post war. A lot of the island may have changed since then but you can still find some of the pristine untouched parts. I am also man enough to admit that at one point I was reduced to a blubbering mess. My wife kept asking which character had been killed off. My tears were not for a person but rather an image,which even while I write this gives me a lump in my throat. It was Juliet’s approach to St Peter Port harbour at sunset that had made my stiff British upper lip quiver like a schoolgirl. That for me is where The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society has it’s true appeal.
Is the book an accurate depiction of life after Nazi occupation? To be honest that would be stretching it a bit. Is Guernsey really as beautiful as the book makes out? Without a doubt!
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a great weekend read for just about anyone so give it a go. You may even find yourself wanting to take a trip in Juliet’s footsteps.