Sunday, December 19, 2010

book clubbing in December

The title of the library book club's December selection is a bit of a mouthful.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

In the wake of WWII, London journalist Juliet Ashton receives an intriguing letter from the current owner of a book that was once part of her personal library: The Selected Essays of Elia by Charles Lamb. Dawsey Adams, a farmer from Guernsey, mentions belonging to a group intriguingly named "the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" that was formed during the war. When Juliet is asked to write an article about "the philosophical value of reading," she thinks that the Society might provide some fodder for her story. Through Dawsey, Juliet is introduced to other members of the Society, who pen missives to her about themselves, their reading interests, Guernsey, and the Occupation as diverse as the individuals themselves.

While I tend to enjoy both historical fiction and epistolary novels, I have to admit that I wasn't really looking forward to reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I'd heard from so many different people how good it was that I was afraid it wouldn't live up to the hype. And, while the novel and I had a bit of a rocky start (Charles Lamb? I've never read Charles Lamb), I found that the longer I spent with the story, the more compelling it became.

Juliet is charming, cheeky, and wholly real. When Amelia Maugery (one of the founding members of the Society) questions Juliet's intentions in writing about the Society, Juliet responds:
Since you ask to know something about me, I have asked the Reverend Simon Simpless [...] to write to you. He has known me since I was a child and is fond of me. I have asked Lady Bella Taunton to provide a reference for me too. We were fire wardens together during the Blitz and she wholeheartedly dislikes me. Between the two of them, you may get a fair picture of my character. (35-36)
Absolutely perfect.

The novel's secondary characters are also well-wrought. The letter-writers each have a distinctive voice and even those who do not write leave a very clear impression (though I have to admit that nearly all of us book clubbers thought Dawsey was older than he actually was).

I think The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is one of those books that will stick with you. I think I will not "say" anymore for fear of accidentally including spoilers in babble. Suffice it to say that I think you should read this book if you haven't already.

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