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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

***½ The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. General fiction.

This was the latest selection for our neighborhood book club. Again, it served the purpose of getting me to read something I normally wouldn't read, and I had a wonderful time at the book club meeting, despite feeling just miserable (I had a sinus pressure headache from a change in the weather, a kink in my lower back, and I had bloating and indigestion from PMS--*rolling my eyes at the great timing*).

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a story, written in epistolary style, about the island of Guernsey shortly after the end of WWII. Author Juliet Ashton is at loose ends, casting about for a subject for a new novel now that her stint as a humorous wartime columnist is over. A chance letter from Dawsey Adams, who'd purchased a used book formerly belonging to Juliet, sparks a series of letters to and from Juliet and the members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and results in friendships and the subject of Juliet's next book.

Through the letters, you get an interesting picture of the place and time. The technique makes for an almost surreal portrait--the reader is removed from the action both because it takes place in the past and because it's being related not directly to the reader, but to a third party. As a result, the horrors of war and the occupation feel on a par with everyday postwar life. Which was likely intentional--the war and the occupation were their everyday life for some time.

And for me, that was the most engaging part of the story--the setting and the background. The present story of the book--Juliet's love life and her relationships with her old friends back in England and her new friends in Guernsey--was more just a framework within which to tell the story of wartime Guernsey.

Perhaps this is a case of being jaded by reading so much, but I wasn't nearly as enthralled with the book as others were. It's a sweet little story--it imparts a historical lesson, and Juliet discovers a new direction for her life--but there's not much to it. Conflict, I think, is what I missed. In fact, a couple of my fellow book club members remarked that the one small bit of conflict (in the second half of the book, so I won't spoil it here) seemed to come out of nowhere, and I agree. Regardless, it didn't provide enough oomph to carry the book.

In addition, I didn't really feel there was much depth to any of the characters. Juliet was the one we knew best, and all I can really say for certain about her is that she has enough self-preservation to turn down would-be fiances who expect her to give up her identity.

Still, as I said, it's a sweet little story, it fits a certain niche very well. Even my book club edition came with a ribbon book mark, but I'd think this would be best in a slightly-smaller-than-usual hardcover with the ribbon book mark and no dust jacket--a book you'd tuck into a gift basket for someone who's ill. Even without a special edition, this is one book I'd definitely feel good about giving as a gift, particularly to someone who wouldn't have the time or energy to tackle heavy reading.

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Everyone is talking about this book right now!
I loved this book when I read it last year. It was one of my top 3 for the year!
Haven't read this book, but I have heard around about it :)
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