Last night, I finally closed my copy of this book with a satisfied smile. There were a lot of things to like about it, and they lingered in my mind as I closed my eyes to sleep.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is, principally, a romance novel. Set sometime in the mid-1940's, after the liberation of Europe from the Nazi occupation, in the little island called Guernsey, which formed part of the Channel Islands in the English Channel nestled between England and France, this book tells the story of writer/authoress Juliet Ashton, who develops friendships with a group of Guernsey Islanders who call themselves members of the “Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” through a series of missives exchanged between and among them. As Juliet, a single woman who lives in London, was then in search of a proper topic for her next book, she senses the makings of a novel among the letters sent to her by the Islanders. Initially, the stories were about how their Literary Society was founded, its members and their subsequent meetings; later on, however, the Islanders spoke of their experiences during the Nazi Occupation of their island. Packing her bags and spurning a lover's perfectly reasonable marriage proposal, Juliet boards the boat that would take her to Guernsey, and there discovers more than she bargained for.
The book was very easy to read. Instead of a winding narrative, the authors weaved and created the story in the form of letters and telegrams – letters to and from Juliet, her publisher Sidney, Sidney's sister and Juliet's close friend, Sophie, and the Guernsey people: Dawsey, Amelia, Eben, and the funny and slightly cuckoo Isola Pribby, my favorite character. I appreciated this style used by the authors because then, the points of view shifted from character to character, depending on who was writing the letter, so the reader, instead of seeing the story unfold from a limited viewpoint, was allowed unlimited vantage point and access to all of the characters' innermost thoughts.
Apart from the writing style, what I appreciated most about the book was its historical value. Having been set after the second world war, the stories that the characters imparted – some of whom were depicted as survivors of the war – actually had some basis in history: the German soldiers who wreaked havoc and terror during the Occupation, the horrors of being detained in the German concentration camps, specifically Belsen, Ravensbruck and Neuengamme, the deplorable and heartbreaking condition of the Todt slaves, the SS and its leader, Heinrich Himmler, etc etc. I know only bits and pieces of that part of world history, so whenever I chance upon historical facts like these from fiction books, I soak it up and research on them, given the opportunity.
Reading this book made me imagine how simple, easy, and uncomplicated island-living could be. The authors painted such an idyllic picture of Guernsey, making it so natural for the heroine, Juliet, to fall in love with the place. Of course, the romance angle was sort of automatic for me, as I already had an inkling, in the first pages, how everything would turn out in the end (which it did). That aside, however, the beautiful relationships that were forged in the novel was something that the reader will wish he/she himself has.
I am happy I read this book slowly, as it made for appreciating it all the better. :)
Thank you, TINTIN, for my copy! :)s