Sunday, 16 August 2009

Book Review - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

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

There is nothing quite like the adrenaline rush that you can get from being thoroughly gripped by a good book and being physically incapable of getting off the sofa to do anything else until you have finished reading. This book will stop you from doing any cooking, cleaning, socialising or, in fact, living until you have read the novel from cover to cover.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is set in 1946 and follows the author Juliet Ashton who is searching around for an idea for her next book. Purely by chance Dawsey Adams from the recently liberated Guernsey contacts her as he has bought a second hand copy of Charles Lambs' essays which were previously owned by Juliet. He wants to know if she can help him find a biography of Charles Lamb as all the bookshops on Guernsey were shut down during the German Occupation. Dawsey mentions that he is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Juliet's intrigue is sparked. A regular correspondance develops between Juliet and Dawsey and later between Juliet and all the members of the society.

The novel is very funny and perfectly captures British eccentricity as well as examining the difficulties faced by the inhabitants of Guernsey during the occupation with touching honesty and insight into a community coming to terms with irrevocable change. The complexity of both the occupation and human nature is realised and dealt with through wit and sensitivity. From the horror of the war crimes committed on Guernsey to the wonderful tale of a literary society bringing people together and triumphing over adversity, this book will have you utterly gripped.

This is a tale that exalts the power of reading and the somewhat Arnoldian view that culture can be transformative - the L&PPPS not only transforms the lives of the Guernsey inhabitants during the occupation but it transforms Juliet Ashton's life; it gives her an idea for a book and also gives her a new life.

First page teaser - a letter from Juliet Ashton to her publisher Sidney Stark:
Now for my grim news. You asked me how work on my new book is progressing. Sidney, it isn't. English Foibles seemed so promising at first. After all, one should be able to write reams about the Society to Protest Against the Glorification of the English Bunny. I unearthed a photograph of the Vermin Exterminators' Trade Union marching down an Oxford street with placards screaming 'Down with Beatrix Potter!' But what is there to write about after a caption? Nothing, that's what.


  1. This is one I have been meaning to read and your review has convinced me that it should be sooner rather than later!

  2. Absolutely - I read it last night in one fell swoop. Was fantastic. Went to sleep dreaming about packing my bags to set off for Guernsey!

  3. This was my favourite book of 2008! Isn't it wonderful when a book has you reading while stirring at the stove or brushing your teeth. I had read a library copy last year so a few weeks ago I bought a copy to cherish as my own. It's so sad that the author passed away and we won't have any other treasure from her but she knew she had a gem in this one.

  4. I recently gave a copy of this to my mother and she loved it. I have it on my tbr list and I was thinking about what you said about not wanting to do anything else while reading this. I think I will save it for the upcoming read-a-thon when I can dedicate the whole day to reading it.

  5. It's strange but usually when I have read a book, I skip other people's reviews of it because I already have my own opinion and because I'm done with the book. But with this one, I love reading each person's discovery of it. It's like watching a kid on Christmas morning and being able to share the joy. It's as heartwarming as the book itself!

  6. I'm looking forward to reading this on holiday the week after next.

  7. That was a review to make me feel remiss in not having read this book sooner. So next trip to the bookshop I will be getting this one. Enjoying reading your blog.

  8. Darlene - the copy I read was my mum's so, like you, I need to buy it for myself for dipping into. It is a shame that we won't have any more gems from Mary Ann Shaffer but it is fantastic that she knew that this was being published in so many different countries.

    Book Psmith - good luck with the read-a-thon, let me know how you get on.

    Kristen M - it is heartwarming that the reading community is sharing the enthusiasm.

    Verity - I hope you enjoy it - let me know.

    Book Pusher - It is definitely one for the 'to be read asap' pile. Keep me posted as to what you think of it.

  9. are you sure it wasnt my copy? i lent it to her the other day! I wasnt aware this was on the booker list this year!


  10. a) it is not on the booker list as you well know - I got distracted
    b) take it up with mother - you know how she likes to appropriate our books - you should write your name inside. (apologies mum).

  11. I just read this gem of a book! Posted on it too, since it inspired me to read and write more letters! You know, I waited a long time to begin reading this book, like a good piece of chocolate, to be savored at a special moment. I could not explain it, but waiting to read it gave me the pleasure of awaiting something extremly special, teasing myself... I was not disappointed!