Cannonball Read IV: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a warm, funny and charming novel about hope and love in post World War II England. In 1946, Juliet Ashton is a young writer promoting Izzy Bickerstaff Goes to War, a compilation of her humorous war-time newspaper columns. She receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a farmer from the island of Guernsey, who by chance acquired her old copy of the collected essays of Charles Lamb. Guernsey was under Nazi occupation for five years during the war, and communication and trade with the mainland have only recently been re-started. In his first letter, Dawsey reveals that he hadn’t read a book since school until one of his friends invented the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in order to provide an alibi to a German officer when they are caught out at night after curfew.
Juliet is intrigued by Dawsey’s letter and soon begins corresponding with various members of the Society as well as other townspeople from Guernsey. In fact, the entire novel is presented as a series of letters and telegrams between the various characters. As the book unfolds, we learn more about the life of the people under the Nazi occupation and hear about both their negative and positive interactions with the German soldiers. Looking for a new story to write about, Juliet eventually makes a trip to the island to meet her new friends face to face and conduct more research. The stories that Juliet collects range from the dark and utterly hopeless to the whimsical and quirky without seeming forced together. Together with Juliet, we grow to admire and appreciate the resilience of the people of Guernsey.
Mary Ann Shaffer first visited Guernsey in 1976 and shortly thereafter began researching its history and sketching out her novel. It was only in the last few years of her life that she had a completed draft and secured a publisher for it. In deteriorating health, she had her niece, Annie Barrows, complete revisions on the book, and Shaffer actually passed away before the date of publication. It’s a shame that the author of such a strong and compelling novel never published any other work.
“The wonderful thing about books—and the thing that made them such a refuge for the islanders during the occupation—is that they take us out of our time and place and understanding, and transport us not just into the world of the story, but into the world of our fellow readers, who have stories of their own.”
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This review is part of Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it.
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