The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society | Book Review

The first I’d ever heard of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was when an awesome reading group on Facebook collectively suggested it to the Universe watching. With an intriguing title that had two words that I love – literary and potato – the book was destined to land in my lap. And if it hadn’t, it would have been a complete shame. On me.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, the concept, was conceived by Mary Ann Shaffer, and when she couldn’t go on due to ill health, was taken forward by her niece, Annie Barrows. This is Mary Ann Shaffer’s only book of her lifetime and that makes me sad. I wish she had written more or as the explanations in the afterword go, I wish she had completed whatever she had started writing over the years.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is an epistolary novel, a movie based on the book will come out soon. I can’t wait to watch it and turn these little ripples into waves of involvement, now that I’ve dipped my feet into the world of Guernsey.

Book cover for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is the story of writer Juliet Ashton, who after writing articles for The Times during World War II to bring comic relief, is contacted by one Dawsey Adams from Guernsey, who is in possession of one of her Charles Lamb books. Thus starts a journey that gives Juliet the subject of her next book and a lifetime supply of friends and love as she grows closer to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Her correspondence with the people over there gives her insights into their lives under the Germans during the war, into who they are as people, into their happiness, their sorrows, what they live for, what they could die for, and most importantly, their spirit as individuals and as a society.

What a phenomenal book this is! The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, written in a series of letters, is one of the best books I’ve read till date. When Juliet wrote back to Dawsey saying, “I had two copies and a dire need of shelf-room, but I felt like a traitor selling it,” it felt like the book was talking about me! The only thought that ran through my mind as I read this was: This would be me, if ever I decide (never) to part with any of my books! The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society sang to me in a way no other book had done so far. I could cry of joy!

There is a point in the book earlier on where the word ‘ghastly’ comes up. It was there that I realized that the voice in my head was reading the story in a British accent. More of a Benedict Cumberbatch or Keira Knightley accent. This is one of the reasons why I was and am still kicking myself for not having read this absolutely beautiful book earlier. My throat clogged up and goosebumps were battling to break out.

One tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you on to another book, and another bit there will lead you on to a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.

Truer words haven’t been said about us bookworms! And to think that a man, who had the gall to pack off Juliet’s books and replace them with his sports trophies was packed off himself, gives me a strange sense of satisfaction. Again, reminds me of me, because books are the only things about which I’d become terribly territorial!

Sometimes, you start a book and quickly realize what an absolute beauty it is. Then you realize, like many things in this world, the book will end. The thought hurts you somehow. And precisely because of that, you read it as slowly as possible. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is exactly this kind of book. As I read it, I could feel a pleasant warmth in my chest, a heaviness that can only be a measure of pride as a bookworm and bibliophile, and a smarting in my eyes that tells me I could burst into tears at any given moment. The book is THAT beautiful.

The fact that The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society alternates between portraying grim realities and pleasant, humorous accounts of the characters without once making it look like either is misplaced is an ode to the brilliant writing by both authors. To Mary Ann Shaffer for having conceptualized, setting the tone, and writing more than half of it. To Annie Barrows, for having stayed true to her aunt’s idea and continuing and succeeding in the same vein.

At the risk of sounding repetitive, this book evoked emotions and reactions in me that no other book has been able to do so far. As I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I had the sudden, overwhelming urge to go to Guernsey and meet all the people of the society for myself. And then I think: I’m Juliet Ashton! That makes me immensely proud, imagining myself to be that strong woman. To have doubts but to know without a doubt where she stands on most issues. I love her!

There are points in the book where humor is so unexpected yet looks so in place, that I couldn’t hold back my laughter. The sentences are perfectly normal, yet they made me shaking with laughter. Tell me. How can one not laugh at this: Isola doesn’t approve of small talk and believes in breaking the ice by stamping on it.

And in addition to the humor, there is the beauty that words conjure up. Here’s one describing the approach to Guernsey:

There is no more beautiful approach to Guernsey than the one by sea – either with the sun going down, or with gold-tipped, black storm clouds, or the Island just emerging through the mist.

All I could think of was: I cannot handle this book! I cannot handle how beautiful and brilliant it is. Yes, there is the heartbreak that comes with reading of the War. If it affects me this much, how much should it affect families who have gone through those ordeals? Yet, the descriptions in there make sure that the heartbreak remains as it is while turning the story into something that’s mind-bogglingly stunning.

In the end, I’m so glad I picked this book! So, so glad! The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is going to stay with me for a long time now. It’s is a must, must, must read!

Rating: 5/5 stars

Until next time, keep reading and add melodrama to your life. 🙂

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