Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
By Mary Ann Shaffer.
Published by Bloomsbury at 18.05 euro.
Reviewed by Sue Leonard.
Published by The Irish Examiner. 11th October 2008.

We’ve had books about book clubs; we’ve had books written in letter form. But never have I read a story that combines both so successfully as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society.

It all starts in London in 1946. Juliet Ashton is on a book publicity tour. Clearly spirited, she chucks a teapot at a journalist who probes her love life too deeply. Her humorous book about wartime is selling well, but she can’t think of a follow up.

Then she gets a letter from a Dawsey Adams; a Guernsey farmer who bought a book by Charles Lamb that was once owned by Juliet. He read the book at The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society; a society formed one night after the islanders had enjoyed an illegal pig roast.

Soon Juliet starts hearing from other islanders, and she begins to build up a picture of life there under the Germans. There was death; hunger and deprivation, but one of the hardest things was not being allowed contact with the outside world. The Islanders did smuggle wirelesses; but had to feign ignorance. And it was very hard to pretend not to know that D Day had happened.

We meet the kindly though gawky Isolda; Eben, a fisherman who discovered a love of Shakespeare; Will Thrisbee an ironmonger, and creator of the potato peel pie; and the shy Dawsey.

All of them talk of Elizabeth; founder of the club, who was sent to Germany. They clearly all adored the brave young woman, and now share the care of the child she left behind.

Juliet also exchanges letters with her publisher, the irascible Sidney; with Sophie, her best friend and Sidney’s sister; and she exchanges notes with Mark; a glamorous American publisher who is doing his best to sweep her off her feet.

Mark is appalled when Juliet sets off for Guernsey. Why won’t she accept his offer of marriage? Could she be falling for someone who shares her love of Lamb?

This is a sumptuous tale that book lovers will surely adore. It’s a light read, yet informative; it’s charming yet meaningful. It’s sad, but it’s also vividly alive, and funny.

The author, an American whose own literary club inspired her writing, died earlier this year. Thankfully, she knew her only book would be published.

Copyright. Sue Leonard. 2008.

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