The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Do you ever open a book and immediately find a mirror’s image blinking back at you from the page? Or at least a kindred spirit? The kind that says “well there you are. It’s about time you arrived! Now sit down and let’s catch up!”
That’s how it felt to read this book. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that it’s one of my favorites.
“This book” is actually a rather wonderful epistolary novel (read: a story told through letters) called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Set in 1946, it tells the story of a writer named Juliet Ashton who is keen to write under her own name after having used a pen name with great success. All she needs is the right subject. Like many things, the right subject turns up unexpectedly, via a letter from Guernsey, which is part of the Channel Islands off the coast of Normandy. The letter itself is written by a man named Dawsey who happened to find a copy of a book that used to belong to her while he and his friends were looking for reading material during the Nazi occupation of their island.
Wondering about the name? It was improvised on the spot when Dawsey and his group of friends were caught out after curfew, having consumed an illicit supper of roast pig and less illicit potato peel pie. And gin. Lots of gin. In order to avoid being caught in a lie, they had to register their society with the Nazis. But the blessing in disguise was that they were able to have something to look forward to. Books and private communion together allowed them to escape from the horrors around them.
Dawsey’s letter to Juliet sparks a series of others, including ones from (you guessed it) the other members of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, who are eager to share their experiences of the occupation and how their favorite books helped them get through it. Through their letters, Juliet not only finds the subject for her new book, but lifelong friends.
Sadly, Mary Ann Shaffer passed away before she could see the wild success of her only book. Just after the publisher bought her manuscript, she fell gravely ill and was unable to complete the massive amount of rewrites that were required. Per her request, the work was taken up by her niece, Annie Barrows (The Truth According to Us), who saw it to completion and delivered the magnificent work we know and love today. Their combined efforts produced writing that is unique to each character, which makes them jump off the page and settle right next to you on the sofa. I feel as though I know these people and have been made an honorary member of their wonderful society.
Due to the limited amount of living space in my life, my library is mostly digital – someday I’ll have a proper Beauty and the Beast library! But until then, this is one book I keep downloaded, just in case I want to drop in for a visit to Guernsey (and I frequently do). The potato peel pie isn’t as good as the company, but don’t let that stop you. In the words of Juliet herself, “Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.”
Reader, consider this your homing beacon.