Monday, September 10, 2018

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Publisher: Dial Press (Random House), 2008 (Paperback)
Length: 290 pages
Genre: Adult; Historical Fiction
Started: September 7, 2018
Finished: September 9, 2018


January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she's never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written in a book by Charles Lamb.

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters,  Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends - and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society - born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island - boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society's members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

Written with warmth and humour as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.

I watched the film version of this on Netflix this summer, so of course I was curious to see exactly how much was similar to the original novel and how much was changed during the switch from novel to film.

First off, I did not know the original book was written solely in letters, I don't think I've read a book in said format since I first read Dracula back in the day. A departure from the usual prose narrative tends to turn me off those books, but the letter format works well here. Juliet's letters begin with writing to Sidney, her friend and publisher, and Sophie, her friend and Sidney's sister. Once Dawsey sends her that fated first letter, Juliet begins to correspond to all the society's members until she travels to the island in the middle of the book. Once on the island, Juliet corresponds still to Sidney and Sophie, but readers also get a glimpse at letters from other characters not interacting with Juliet, like Isola writing to Sidney.

In terms of differences between the film and the novel, there are many, mainly in terms of extra secondary characters and plot points existing in the novel, whereas things have been condensed in the film. The novel is also less focused solely on the love story between Dawsey and Juliet, and more balanced about Juliet's relationships with everyone else.

The novel really is a lovely story for bibliophiles, especially the idea that's hammered into readers several times that the act of reading, which the Guernsey characters did not really engage in to a great degree before, managed to save these characters' sanities during the war and occupation.

This is quite a quick, enjoyable read. If you've seen the film, you should definitely give the novel a try. If you haven't seen the film, but you like historical fiction and literature, then you should still give it a try.

Thoughts on the cover:
Simple, yet very appropriate for the novel's content. You have the title written on a letter complete with stamps and postmarks, with a figure that I'm assuming is Juliet standing pensively at the sea.

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