‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ by Mary Ann Schaffer
When you are tired from a sojourn in the deserts among gun fights, armed men and dilapidated monasteries and then having a ‘A Spot of Bother,‘ there comes a ray of sunlight through the gloominess that had started to cloud your mind. Wit, warmth, nice people and beautiful places, with the right amount of mushiness thrown in, this was exactly what the book doctor ordered. You see, the right time for the right book 🙂
There is something about letters , the long forgotten long hand types, that brings out the essence of your soul. As you put your thoughts out in ink, you are actually pouring yourself out onto that piece of paper. The war is just over and writer Juliet Ashton is on the search for a topic for her new book. Out of the blue she gets a letter from one Dawsey Adams from a farm in Guernsey, Channel Islands. An old book of Juliet’s has somehow reached his hands –
‘The Selected Essays of Elia’ by an author whose real name was Charles Lamb.
Dawsey wants to read more of the author’s books. Since there are no book shops in Guernsey, asks Juliet for the name and address of one in London that he can contact. And thus begins a correspondence between the two that slowly spreads to the members of ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.’ As Juliet gets to know the people of Guernsey and how the society came into being and got its funny name, the other letters to and from her best friend Sophie and Sidney her publisher and Sophie’s brother, gives us a glimpse of her growing years and of her as a person. Then there is the quintessential handsome American, Mark, who is trying to woo Juliet and will do anything to make her his wife.
The story takes a predictable turn as Juliet travels to Guernsey, meets the orphaned Kit, decides to base her next book on the incidents and people there, in the background of the German occupation. You know how the story is going to end. In spite of that, what makes it so delightful is the essential goodness in all the characters. Most of them, including the Germans, seem too good to be true and all of them write witty letters. What makes it even more charming and makes a lover of books absolutely love this book is the humorous references to various books, literary characters and the joy of reading. Sample a few,
“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”
“Because there is nothing I would rather do than rummage through bookshops, I went at once to Hastings & Sons Bookshop upon receiving your letter. I have gone to them for years, always finding the one book I wanted – and then three more I hadn’t known I wanted.”
“What on earth did you say to Isola? She stopped in on her way to pick up Pride and Prejudice and to berate me for never telling her about Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Why hadn’t she known there were better love stories around? Stories not riddled with ill-adjusted men, anguish, death and graveyards!”
I have to thank this girl for recommending this absolutely delightful read that is entirely in the form of letters. Apparently, this is the only book from Mary Ann Schaffer. In fact, she passed away before the book was published and her niece Annie Barrows completed it based on the manuscript.
Verdict : Don’t even touch it if you are someone who looks down upon mushiness and things that are too sweet. As for ordinary souls like me, who love simple pleasures in life and believe that there is an innate goodness in most everyone, grab it. Those of you who love witty dialogues and humorous takes on life, do take the chance and peep in, I would say.