Megha's Reviews > The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
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Apr 09, 09

bookshelves: reviews, in-goodreaders-we-trust
Recommended to Megha by: Wanda
Read in January, 2009


Dear Mary Ann Shaffer,

I recently read your book 'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society'. It brought a few questions to my mind.
Juliet writes in one of her letters:
"Dear Sidney,
What an inspired present you sent kit - red satin tap shoes covered with sequins"

Didn't Sidney know what present he had sent?
If you had to resort to sentences like these to speak what you wanted to, didn't you realize that the letter format and your writing didn't go well together?

Learning from your bad example, I will quit trying to be fancy, stop this letter here and write a regular review.

A Reader.

** Spoiler Alert **

Novel written in epistolary format. Set in post WWII England.1946.
Juliet is a 30-something writer living in London. (She is like this perfect human being who is universally loved. The only people who dislike even the smallest thing about her are the evil people). One day she receives a letter from a man living on Guernsey islands who found her address on a second hand book he had. Soon Juliet is exchanging letters with the members of Guernsey literary society and people talk about what books they like and why. Then suddenly everyone forgets about the books and Guernsey people start sharing their most intimate experiences from the time during the world war with Juliet, who is only a stranger. A few weeks later Juliet goes to the Guernsey islands to meet and interview these people. Of course everyone there just loves her (except the evil woman). She stays there for a few months and decides to adopt a four year old orphan girl she met there. The girl of course loves Juliet more than the people who have raised her. And then Juliet marries a pig farmer and settles down on the Guernsey islands.
So much for the ridiculous plot. (I should have just known better, just look at the cheesy title.)

It shouldn't be difficult for a decent writer to develop good characters when using a letter format, since each character gets his/her own voice. However, all the characters in this book seem to talk in exactly the same manner. Be it an accomplished writer from the city of London or farmers from a remote island, their letters sound just the same. Irrespective of whether the letters are being written to a close friend or to a complete stranger. Almost all of the characters have only a single trait. For some of the characters I can't recall even a single distinct characteristic.

Mary Ann tries to have everything in one book. She has grazed the surface of numerous topics like books, world war, art, nature love, bucolic life, friendship, love, homosexuality, religion and so on. None of these get more than a superficial treatment. Stories about Nazi occupation of Guernsey don't tell you anything real about the war. They just revolve around this saint of a woman who died during the war while trying to show-off her heroism. To add to this drama, halfway through the book Mary Ann shifted the focus to Juliet trying to decide between different love interests (too many people love her, you know). Why is this book being marketed a historical novel?

Another one of those recent successful books that everyone is raving about. I don't get it.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 105) (105 new)


message 1: by Laura (new)

Laura Goldblum Seems like you have a personal grudge against the author. Why the hostile tone?


Allison You know, I really liked the book, but I had all of your criticisms running mutedly in the back of my mind, and I acknowledge their validity, even though I still enjoyed reading it. This is a great example of how to write a bad review well -- even though it will still piss some people off (or maybe because).


Megha Allison, I am glad you could enjoy it better than I did.



Carla Given that Mary Ann Shaffer died before the book was published, a letter written to her lacks some taste. Her niece, a juvenile book author, finished the book. I agree with you that the book was not good, although I thought there were some great elements.


Allison Well obviously it's not really a letter written to her. It's a reviewing technique, and quite a clever one I thought.


message 6: by Matthieu (new)

Matthieu Megha > Laura.


Megha Matt wrote: "Megha > Laura."

:)


message 8: by Félix (new)

Félix The review worked for me.


message 9: by Christine (new)

Christine I really enjoyed the book and don't understand the critiscm of the letter to Sydney:

"What an inspired present you sent kit - red satin tap shoes covered with sequins"
Didn't Sidney know what present he had sent?
If you had to resort to sentences like these to speak what you wanted to, didn't you realize that the letter format and your writing didn't go well together?"

When I was growing up and being taught the gentle art of thank you notes, it was always considered polite to actually mention what the gift was in the body of the note.

So, to take exception to this aspect of the letter seems a little bizarre to me.

Notwithstanding my enjoyment of the book, I could actually feel the change in pace and somewhat style when Annie Barrows took over.

This book hit the right notes for me, hilariously funny in places, emotional where appropriate, warm and a darned good yarn.




message 10: by Megha (new) - rated it 1 star

Megha Christine wrote: "I really enjoyed the book and don't understand the critiscm of the letter to Sydney:

"What an inspired present you sent kit - red satin tap shoes covered with sequins"
Didn't Sidney know what ..."


I just happened to pick these lines as an example. I am sure it won't be difficult to find several other instances where letters seem to be speaking to the reader of the book rather than the recipient of the letter.



Sonia When I write a thank you note, I always make sure to specifically mention the gift I was given. I feel as if it's more polite and personal— perhaps Shaffer's Juliet felt the same way?


Meridyforgot When I first read that you thought all the letters sounded the same, my immediate response was defensive, "No they don't!!" But then I thought about it and realized that I did have to check several times while I was reading through a letter to see who was writing to whom. So I agree with you on that point.

I disagree with your statement about how this book is not about the real war. WWII affected many different people in many different ways. Real people suffered real hardships because of the war. Not just the people in concentration camps and on the battlefield. To belittle their suffering because someone suffered greater is insensitive. We all suffer, I should like to think we can all get some measure of understanding for what we live through. I was so happy to get of glimpse of what it may have been like for different types of people during the war. I liked that there were many different experiences crammed into this novel. When people write letters they can write about whatever they want. They write glimpses into their lives. I felt the subjects in the letters were for the most part natural. This book is not trying to give a full view on all topics, but different glimpses from many people, therefore you get many subjects. And frankly, I wouldn't want to read about about years worth of suffering on a battlefield or in a concentration camp. Very important to know, but painful to read in novel form. I enjoyed this book because it was meaningful without being so incredibly heavy.

Of course so many people in this book love Juliet. Do you exchange letters with people who hate you? I hope not. And the people who didn't like her were not evil. Did they kill anyone? No. In fact the fire warden who disliked Juliet so much had some good things to say about her. Evil? Hardly.


message 13: by Tintin (last edited Nov 19, 2010 06:15AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tintin Reading your review, I finally realized what it is I found 'off' about Juliet. I couldn't pinpoint what exactly it is about her that made me not empathize with her. But now I know - she is a Mary Sue! Everybody loves the Mary Sue! She could do no wrong!

And yes, the totally phony way they explain events int the letters (just like your example) ticked me off too.

I totally agree about the characters sounding alike in their letters. The letters just about ruined it for me.


Bridget Were you aware that the author was dead?


Bridget I'm just curious, not accusatory. Because if you did know, then that would really confuse me...but if you didn't, then okay. I understand, although I really loved the book.


message 16: by Megha (new) - rated it 1 star

Megha Bridget wrote: "I'm just curious, not accusatory. Because if you did know, then that would really confuse me...but if you didn't, then okay. I understand, although I really loved the book."

Bridget, you can see comment #7 for my answer.


Bridget Okay, thanks.


Mystique The review, including the fact that it began as a letter, nails everything that I disliked about the book.

Your review is eloquent and accurate and you can't be held accountable for the fact that the author is no longer with us. Perhaps she was a perfectly winning person, but her book left much to be desired.

Many people tried to convince me that this book was wonderful and I simply must read it. I beg to differ and in the future, I may just refer them to your review, rather than argue why.


message 19: by Megha (new) - rated it 1 star

Megha Thanks for the encouraging comments, Mystique.


Heather Personally, I loved the book, but I thought your comment about all of the letters sounding the same was interesting. I listened to the audio version, and different actors did a variety a voices to represent each character, so the letters definitely sounded different in that format. Now I'm wondering if I would have enjoyed it as much if I'd read the print version. I also found myself slightly annoyed by Elizabeth's character--Juliet didn't bother me, but I felt like Elizabeth had no failings and could do no wrong. Her only failing was that she "cared too much" or whatever.


Veronica Yes, your review nails it for me too. I did think that Mary Ann Shaffer was probably a delightful person and a great storyteller, but she did not have the talent to write a novel in this format. The letters simply didn't read like letters that a varied bunch of British people, some of whom didn't know each other well, would have written to each other in 1946. If I had to pick some out, I'd say the "character reference" letters were particularly ludicrous.


Little They collectively read like blog posts, don't they?


Jeanette Did anybody else find Juliet completely unsympathetic when she voiced her resentment of Remy and how much Dawsey cared for her? Just curious.


Veronica I found her completely unsympathetic all of the time :)

Incidentally, Rémy is a very odd forename for a French woman. It's a boy's name, and although I suppose it's theoretically possible for a woman to be called Rémy, it just doesn't happen. I saw this as another example of poor research, although perhaps I was missing something.


message 25: by Jane (new) - rated it 1 star

Jane Great review


message 26: by Megha (new) - rated it 1 star

Megha Thanks Jane.


Silvia Iskandar Totally agree. I'm surprised that this book managed to be a bestseller. The story is so simple, predictable, and too beautiful and sweet to be real. Made me feel like reading old romance novel, and made me suspicious of the genre, is this for young adult? Everything comes so easy. But, really, I have found other books like this, which have also become best seller. This is the 3rd one. I guess our present life is so bleak that people crave for a perfect imaginary world? I don't hate it, I'm just upset that the characters are too simple. I feel like I have wasted my time.


Silvia Iskandar The other book I was talking about is 'Redeeming Love' by Francine Rivers. Gave it 2 stars for the writer's effort to finish such a long story. Not for the content.


message 29: by Rock (new) - added it

Rock Angel When i felt too embarrassed to put something on my "read" shelf I created this "This-got-published?" list. Thank god someone wrote a sensible review.

http://www.goodreads.com/list/show/10...

I always reverted back to non-fiction no matter how hard I try to enjoy literary work. Take a look at Norfolk or Pitcairn Islands if you're into island cultures.


Wanda Ditto!


Karen Wanda, Mary Ann Shaffer is dead; you might aim this remark at her cousin, Annie Barrow, who took over writing the book after her aunt became ill.


Wanda What remark? I agreed with Rock about reverting to non-fiction on this thread. What in the world does my preference for non fiction have to do with either Shaffer or Barrow????? I suggest that you keep track of the thread instead of making irrelevant suggestions to people who are not criticizing the book or the authors.


Karen I did not understand your remark, "Dear Mary Ann Shaffer" presented at the beginning of the thread. I thought you were being critical to the author and the book. Perhaps, I read it wrong.


message 34: by Diane (new) - rated it 1 star

Diane I think you nailed it--My favorite line which I quoted in my review is where she writes "I accept you dinner invitation. I will wear my new dress an deat like a pig." Come on who spoke like that in the 40's? Absurd all around.


message 35: by Megha (last edited Nov 24, 2011 06:39AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Megha Karen wrote: "Wanda, Mary Ann Shaffer is dead; you might aim this remark at her cousin, Annie Barrow, who took over writing the book after her aunt became ill."

Karen, you probably wanted to aim your remark at me, and not Wanda.

To answer your question, I am not really trying to say anything to either of the two authors. That was just a silly imitation of the book's epistolary format.


message 36: by Megha (new) - rated it 1 star

Megha Diane wrote: "I think you nailed it--My favorite line which I quoted in my review is where she writes "I accept you dinner invitation. I will wear my new dress an deat like a pig." Come on who spoke like that in..."

Yes, absurd is right.
I just looked up your review for this book. I agree with everything you say there.


Wanda Karen, you lost track of the thread and directed an irrelevant comment to me. I never said a thing about either of the people involved in the production of this bit of drivel.


Laura I feel the same as you about the protagonist, I just can't help it.


message 39: by Rosie (new)

Rosie wow! it must be nice to be so perfect! what a rude comment.


message 40: by Megha (new) - rated it 1 star

Megha which comment?


Naomi Megah, great review. I somewhat enjoyed flipping through this easy to read, sweet story but it left me feeling empty and your review really helped me understand why.


message 42: by Megha (new) - rated it 1 star

Megha Naomi wrote: "Megah, great review. I somewhat enjoyed flipping through this easy to read, sweet story but it left me feeling empty and your review really helped me understand why."

You are welcome Naomi.

And thanks for the 100th vote! That's a first for me.


Maggie Well, I respect your opinion but your criticism seems misplaced. First, it's perfectly normal for Juliet to mention the present when thanking Sydney.
2. Juliet is not a perfect human being, her faults are often brought up in the novel.
3. The reason the island people share with Juliet is because she is a writer and they want their story told. They also know she is trustworthy.
4. It is not a ridiculous plot. It takes forever for Juliet's and Dawsey's relationship to form, not love at first sight and love and kisses from then on.
Kit did not like Juliet at first, if you recall, but Juliet is patient and earns her love.

I thought every character had great development. Without looking at who was writing I found it very easy to tell who was writing. For example, Isola's way of writng was different from Sydney's. I wouldn't say that everyone writes exactly the same way, as you did.

Why shouldn't Elizabeth's heroism be bragged about? That was the whole reason of Juliet's writing! It was necessary to the plot and for other character development. And without Juliet's 'love interests' what else would the novel have? You need a varitey of topics for a good story. Homosexuality wasn't the focus of the book, is was meant for humor and to add to Sydney's character.

Not well written? Not well written? That's crazy. This book was wonderful, and I'm sorry that you didn't enjoy it for what it was. It was mean to be taken as a heart-warming story about a young female author and her adventure with the people of Guernsey. I'm sorry you didn't like it.


message 44: by Clare (new) - rated it 1 star

Clare I actually got 3/4 through this book and honestly just couldn't keep reading. I just didn't connect to it and i had absolutely no desire to finish it.


message 45: by Megha (new) - rated it 1 star

Megha Maggie wrote: "I'm sorry you didn't like it. "

I am glad that you enjoyed it, Maggie. This book simply isn't my cup of tea. It was a bad decision on my part to read it at all.


Aaron Hanson I love that you are still responding to comments about a book review written three years ago for a book you didn't enjoy.


message 47: by Megha (new) - rated it 1 star

Megha Aaron wrote: "I love that you are still responding to comments about a book review written three years ago for a book you didn't enjoy."

All thanks to Goodreads' notification system which sometimes actually works.


message 48: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Megha wrote: "All thanks to Goodreads' notification system which sometimes actually works. "

Probably only for the negative kind of comments!


Keenaburt It's sweet that you wrote a personal note to the author, but if you read the dust jacket, you'd know she's been dead since 2008.


message 50: by Megha (new) - rated it 1 star

Megha Keenaburt wrote: "It's sweet that you wrote a personal note to the author, but if you read the dust jacket, you'd know she's been dead since 2008."

The letter is just a childish imitation of the epistolary format of the novel. It is not really meant for the author and there is nothing personal about it.


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