Synopsis (Goodreads): January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb.
As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.
Potato Peel Pie – the description of this food creation in the book during the occupation of Guernsey by the Germans during the Second World War (apparently the only British soil to be occupied during this time) definitely didn’t inspire any cravings, but other than the precarious food concoctions, this was a thoroughly delightful novel.
The plot of the novel unfolds through a series of letters between writer Juliet and the quirky yet thoroughly charming members of a literary society that was founded in Guernsey to avoid trouble with members of the occupying German army. The letter writing style employed beautifully demonstrated how, if well written, letters can reveal so much about characters and their lives.
Juliet herself has definitely inserted herself high into my list of favourite female characters and ones that I most identify myself with. She is strong-willed and eccentric with a wonderfully British tongue-in-cheek sense of humour (a big pat on the back to the American authors for pulling this off), and is a bookworm to boot.
While the historical element is dark (the Second World War, problems associated with German occupation, the effects of concentration camps), it is dealt with a light and sensitive hand, giving you a sense of the time and place, and sending its message effectively, but without making you want to bawl your eyes out.
I think the book would more naturally appeal to a female readership but there may just be some guys who could appreciate it too – it is witty, charming, occasionally laugh out loud, and thoroughly heartwarming. The author fell ill when writing this book and conscripted her niece to help finish it when she couldn’t go on, dying before it was published. It made me sad that there would be nothing else forthcoming from a writer this talented, so I will be revisiting this new favourite in the future for sure, and you should definitely try it too.
Post-script: the below are some of my favourite turns of phrase and quotes from the book (mostly Juliet’s words)
I don’t want to be married just for the sake of being married. I can’t think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life within someone I can’t talk to, or worse, someone I can’t be silent with.
That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you on to a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no reason other than sheer enjoyment.
Real dyed-in-the-wool readers can’t lie. Our faces always give us away. A raised brow or a curled lip means that it’s a poor excuse for a book, and the clever customers ask for a recommendation instead, whereupon we frogmarch them over to a particular volume and command them to read it. If they read it and despise it, they’ll never come back. But if they like it, they’re customers for life.
Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books.
This obsession with dignity can ruin your life if you let it.