Thursday, 12 September 2013

Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

Synopsis - It's 1946 and author Juliet Ashton can't think what to write next.  Out of the blue, she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams of Guernsey - by chance, he's acquired a book that once belonged to her - and, spurred on by their mutual love of reading, they begin a correspondence.  When Dawsey reveals that he is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Juliet's curiosity is piqued and it's not long before she begins to hear from other members.  As letters fly back and forth with stories of life in Guernsey under the German Occupation, Juliet soon realises that the society is every bit as extraordinary as its name.

Review - What I found interesting about this book was the way it came about.  Mary Ann Shaffer had another project in mind but when her visit to London found that there was nothing of real value to work with in the archives, she decided for reasons unknown to others to visit Guernsey.  It was there she discovered a book titled 'Jersey Under the Jackboot' and thus began her interest in the Channel Isles.

Another interesting point is that whilst writing the book Mary Ann became ill and she invited her niece Annie Barrows to help her finish the book.  It was Annie, on the request of the editor, who re-wrote a substantial part of the book.  These changes in authorship go unnoticed.  Such is Annie's dedication to her aunt's writing and project.

This book is an epistolary novel which is what makes it so endearing.  I love the initial letters back and forth between Juliet Ashton and her publisher Sidney Stark and also between Juliet and Sidney's sister, Sophie.  This is where the scene setting occurs.  We learn something about Juliet's background and her friendship with the brother and sister.  Into this mix, there is mention of a nasty journalist, who we later find out will do anything for revenge.  Another character is a possible suitor, Markham V Reynolds Jr who pops up every now and again.  The major players are the very interesting members of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society who write to Juliet one by one, introducing themselves and gradually revealing more about their lives and the society, including the history of how it came to be.

I love the way these characters unfold and we gradually learn about Elizabeth McKenna, the society's founding member.  A strong woman of great resourcefulness, whose tragic life ended too soon.

Amongst the history of the society and snippets of the German Occupation in Guernsey, the authors weave a story that includes love, loss, friendship and deceit.  A beautiful story which could not have been written in a more exquisite format.  5*

ISBN 978-0-7475-9668-4

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