Monday, May 10, 2010


Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Authors: Mary Ann Schafer and Annie Barrows

From Juliet to Dawsey [selected excerpts]

Dear Mr. Adams,


That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto 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.

The red stain on the cover that looks like blood – is blood. I got careless with my paper knife. […]

If you have time to correspond with me, could you answer several questions? Three, in fact. Why did a roast pig dinner have to be kept secret? How could a pig cause you to begin a literary society? And, most pressing of all, what is a potato peel pie – and why is it included in your society’s name?


Yours sincerely,

Juliet Ashton

I feel that certain expectations are raised when a novelist puts the word “pie” in her title. For example, imagine a book entitled Blood Pie: Death in the Amazon ... with Scorpions! Something just seems wrong there, doesn’t it?

No, a book with “pie” in its title should be warm, comforting, and delectable. Like a pie! Its pages should celebrate small town values, but not small-town bigotry. And it should probably have good female characters. Some men might balk at buying a “pie” novel (unless it was the aforementioned Blood Pie), and a mercenary wise author will always flatter her chosen demographic.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society met all these expectations of mine, and was the perfect follow-up to the meat-and-potatoes machismo of Herodotus. I had been saving it for just this purpose, knowing that I would crave something funny and light after all that ancient warfare.

Told entirely through letters, the story takes place in the immediate aftermath of WWII. Our heroine is Juliet Ashton, an author living in London who is trying to come up with an idea for her next book. Luckily, inspiration soon arrives in the post. Juliet receives a letter from Mr. Dawsey Adams, a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The letter explains that Dawsey is in possession of one of Juliet’s old books: Selected Essays of Elia, by Charles Lamb. He would like to read more books by Charles Lamb, but there are no bookstores open on Guernsey since the war. Could Juliet send him the name and address of a London bookshop, so that he could order some via mail?

Juliet is intrigued, both by the letter and the Society’s unusual name. She responds eagerly, and doesn’t hesitate to ask curious questions of her own. Soon, a full-blown correspondence is established between herself, Dawsey, and the other Society members. The Society members are all quirky characters, and Juliet finds herself slowly becoming engrossed in their lives. She eventually decides that they are the perfect subject for her next book, and goes to the island to meet her new friends and write about their unique wartime experience.

The story might sound like it’s too sweet – all strawberry – but there’s just enough tart rhubarb here to make it interesting. Juliet can be very funny in her letters, and enjoys flinging teapots at nosy reporters.

Of course, Guernsey isn’t all sweetness and light. The characters suffered through WWII, after all, and the grim shadow of death in a concentration camp does make an appearance. But there’s no graphic violence or evil in these pages, and the book celebrates the strength that can arise from love, community, and friendship.

p.s. – I wrote this review months ago and am just getting around to posting it now. Guernsey was a good read, and I enjoyed it thoroughly, but it’s not a book with staying power. I’ve forgotten much of the plot by now, and don’t even think I would’ve been able to remember the characters’ names without reading over the review. So it’s a good book, but not worth making the investment of a purchase. You probably won't read it twice, unlike my next review...

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posted by Elizabeth at 3:51 PM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where can I find that book about Amazonian scorpions?

5/12/2010 11:28 AM  

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