In post-war London, Juliet Ashton has a problem. She can’t find an idea to write about, after the phenomenal success of her war time pseudonym, Izzy Bickerstaff. After a book tour, she receives a letter from one Dawsey Adams of Guernsey, saying he has an old copy of one of her books, and did she know any more by the same author? Thus, Juliet embarks on a journey across the channel to the island and meets a vast array of people, all with their own, often horrifying, tales to tell.
I read Guernsey Literary for a book club I set up with my friends (it was the first book) and I really, really enjoyed it. It’s written in an epistolary style, which can be a bit confusing but you settle down into it: a mixture of full letters, telegrams and notes slid under the door and even some journal entries at the end. The epistolary style means that it’s quick to read, and easy to set yourself a goal of reading, say, two letters. Before you know it, you will have accidentally read the entire book.
The different array of characters was another of my favourite things from the novel. All had their own mind, from Adelaide Addison to Isola Pribby. Their distinctive style clearly made it into the text – as did their personalities. Relationships were different to each other also and each character actually added something to the story, even in the slightest manner, which made every bit of it incredibly enjoyable.
Juliet, the main character, was one of my favourites. She was witty, entertaining, intelligent and just all-round fun. She bounced well onto other characters and the humour she produced was great.
One thing I didn’t like about the novel? Too many unanswered questions at the end! I won’t give spoilers, but I would adore to know what happens. However, I like that the novel did finish as such, because it means that it can continue in the reader’s mind. And it sure will in mine!
The topics in this book are love and war, essentially, but I am going to focus on the latter for now (the former is also prominent but talking about it would give too many spoilers so I am just going to say that the romance is great!). The Second World War was brutal, horrendous and gruesome, and Shaffer and Barrows don’t hold back. True horrors, be it from inside the concentration camps or to the innocent citizens of Guernsey, are described in honest detail, and therefore it can be a shocking read. However, without this realism, the novel wouldn’t seem, well, real, and it definitely doesn’t sugar coat an honest event – perhaps a fitting tribute? I also like that this book focuses on Guernsey. During WWII the Channel Islands were left undefended and therefore quickly occupied by the Germans and they were for almost the entire war. Liberation day was later. Communication was cut. Their story is often forgotten and that is why I really like how this novel has been written about this tiny n5 by 7 mile island off the coast of France. If you ever get a chance to visit Guernsey, check out some of the WWII museums, bunkers, etc. Even if you don’t specifically go to one of them, though, you will see remains of the war wherever you go, in the brick towers, walls and even the roads. This book is brilliant for describing their plight.
I would recommend this novel for almost anyone. It’s primarily aimed at the typical woman, but I am sure that men can enjoy it too. Age-wise, it is more for the older person, and not young children. Many youngsters do learn about the war but it is only as you get older that you learn the true horrors of concentration camps, and indeed the true horrors of the war in general, on both sides. These horrors are described with gruesome realism, and that’s just a word of caution I am going to give. Still, it is a fantastic book and definitely worth the read.
TITLE: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
AUTHOR: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 2008 (this edition 2009)
NUMBER OF PAGES: 240
PERSONAL SOURCE: My mum’s copy