The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
Reviewed by Sally Shaw
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Bloomsbury 2008) a story told over a period of nine months that uncovers life stories. Through letters of correspondence between the protagonist, Juliet Ashton, her publisher, members of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and other residents of the island of Guernsey, a story of the German occupation (30th June 1940 - 9th May 1945) is told.
Juliet Ashton is a writer living in London during World War Two, she writes a column for the Spectator under the pseudonym Izzy Bickerstaff and once the war ends Izzy Bickerstaff Goes to War is published by Stephens & Stark. The story begins with Juliet writing to her publisher, Sidney Stark about going on tour to promote her new book, and to inform him she no longer wants to write the new book she has in mind. Sidney is a friend as well as her publisher and brother to her best friend Sophie of whom she has known since boarding school. Juliet’s parents died when she was twelve and her uncle couldn’t cope so sends her to boarding school. I found that the first five pages I was unsure of the letter format and I felt the setting was too upper class for me.
I’m pleased I continued to read. The next letter was to Juliet from Dawsey Adams.
‘From Dawsey Adams, Guernsey, Channel Islands, to Juliet
Miss Juliet Ashton
81 Oakley Street
Dear Miss Ashton,
My name is Dawsey Adams, and I live on my farm in St Martin’s Parish, Guernsey. I know of you because I have an old book that once belonged to you – The Selected Essays of Elia, by an author whose name in real life was Charles Lamb. Your name and address were written inside the front cover.’
Dawsey goes on to say how during the German occupation Lamb’s essays helped him and in particular the one about the roast pig. He explains he is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and it came into being because of a roast pig that had to be kept secret from the German soldiers. Along with this Dawsey asked Juliet if she could help him find more books by Charles Lamb. Juliet answered his letter and asked more questions and so the story suddenly comes alive and fills with characters. As Juliet receives more letters from the islanders, assisting her in writing three newspaper articles, an idea for a new book forms and she goes to Guernsey.
Shaffer’s style of writing is easy to read and by using letters she is able to provide different viewpoints from different characters. Just as you think you know a character for example John Booker, he writes a letter to Juliet and a whole different person is seen. Shaffer writes with care and attention to historical fact of the German occupation. I found at times reading the experiences of Eben, his daughter Jane at times heart breaking. There are characters whom I wanted to slap while others made me laugh Isola being one. This book is so rich in characters, a sense of place both on the island of Guernsey and in German concentration camps that at times it hurt me to read it. The story also shows who the German soldiers were, individuals and that they were not all the same. It tells the impact of their occupation on the people of Guernsey and the people that they brought to the island as well as the effect on them as people not as soldiers.
Shaffer’s story telling creates a questioning that goes on after the story ends. I think it is this that makes this book special. It was a pleasure to read this book, not easy to read the words that spoke the truth at times but we must never forget what happened during and after the German occupation of Guernsey.
This book tells the beautiful story of being human and the influence one person who is beautiful enough to care has on others and the effect that had on the individual.