The Second World War has ended and people across the world are picking up the pieces. It's 1946, January, and Juliet Ashton is on a book tour around England for her recently published collection of humorous columns that had been so popular during the war, Izzy Bickerstaff Goes to War. She's not used to being a success and she does tend to throw things at people, but on the upside a very wealthy and attractive man keeps sending her flowers.
A surprise letter from a complete stranger from one of the Channel Islands, Guernsey, provides a new friendship and the germ of an idea for a new book. He, Dawsey Adams, had one of her books (works by Charles Lamb), which had her address on the inside cover. Her old address, her beloved flat that was bombed. The letter reaches her, and so begins a new friendship not just with Dawsey, but the entire community of St Peter Port and the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
Intrigued by this amazing name, the story of the literary society's origins are revealed and soon Juliet is caught up in their story, and that of the island which was under German Occupation during the war. Everyone has a story, and one woman in particular shines through all their tales: Elizabeth McKenna, a resourceful and quick-witted young woman whom Juliet feels an affinity to.
Told through letters between various characters but predominantly between Juliet and her publisher and best friend's brother, Sidney Stark, this poignant and bittersweet story is skilfully revealed and celebrated.
I'm not normally a fan of books told through letters, though it's an unfair assumption that they must always be boring. A truly skilled writer can reveal much through letters - and Mary Ann Shaffer, who died just before the book was published, and her niece Annie Barrows who finished the manuscript when her aunt fell ill, have completed a remarkable book that I cannot recommend highly enough.
This is a book that made me laugh, made me cry, and sometimes made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. Yet it's not a morbid or sad book. Juliet is a delightfully funny woman whose teasing tone reminded me of one of my sisters; and the Islanders each have their own quirks and remind me of shows like Seachange and Hamish Macbeth - that small town, close-knit community feel. So much is cleverly revealed to us through their correspondence, things that the characters themselves, writing the letters, don't notice.
It's beautifully written, slightly tongue-in-cheek and with that real British sense of humour - which is wonderful considering the authors are American. They really captured that tone, of the period as well as the place. There's also a great deal of subtlety, and an undercurrent of excitement, that completely beguiles you.
There are stories within stories as the past and the present overlap, and the complex relationship between Islander and Occupier is gently explored, while the horrors of a concentration camp are lightly touched upon - the full import is there, but not thrust in your face. A light touch, this book proves, can be more powerful that a hard-hitting one.
I felt close to all the characters in this book, who came vividly to life through these letters and their personal stories and adventures. It also makes me want to visit Guernsey! It's a quick, light read that will have you fully engrossed within the first few pages. A new favourite.