In 1946, as London emerges from a war-torn history, Juliet, who wrote humorous articles during the war, is now looking for a new subject to write about for a new book. Unfortunately, an idea is nowhere near to be found. Out of the blue, she gets a letter from a Guernsey resident, thus beginning a long and warm association with him and other residents of Guernsey. She learns how they played a role in the war, how books became an important part of their lives, how the literary society came into being and why the potato peel pie was added to the name of their society. What starts off as an innocent exchange morphs into something bigger, something that eventually sends Juliet on a different life path.
Ever since this book was published in 2008, it had been on my radar. Last year, one of my friends read it and wanted to discuss that with me, but unfortunately, my copy was still playing house in my bookshelf. Eventually, I got to it last month, though I don't remember what made me pull it up. Did the news about the movie based on this book
with the awesome Kate Winslet in the lead have anything to do with it? Probably. Was the size a motivation? Definitely. I was looking for a light and quick read to occupy my lunch break, so this book was it.
If I had to describe this book in one word, I'd say quirky. The Guernsey Literary
was chock full of eccentric and wonderful characters that it immediately brought to mind the cozy The Lumby Lines
, which I read two years ago. At the same time, it wasn't a trivial read but instead had plenty of anecdotes from the suffering men and women of Guernsey. The war had definitely plonked down its nasty fist on this place. There were curfews, threats of a distant camp for violators, scarcity of food, and lack of support from England, who wanted to protect her borders. So the Germans came and set up shop, and ate all the food that this place produced leaving the citizens to dine on potatoes and turnips daily. Before the Germans came, most of the children were sent off to Britain to live under the care of strangers, because that was considered safer than the unknown impending danger of German occupation.
Despite the lurking darkness in the book, it's very hard to describe this book as gloomy. Most of the characters had a very optimistic demeanor that came through in their letters. (Oh, did I mention that this book is written in an epistolary style?) Juliet remained my favorite character of the lot, and her cheerfulness, innocence, funny bone and can-do attitude were very infectious. She strongly reminded me of Judy Abbott from Daddy Long Legs
- another one of my favorite characters. Besides Juliet, Kit, a stubborn little girl, Elizabeth, her courageous mother who never makes an appearance in the book, and Amelia, Juliet's main Literary Society correspondent in Guernsey made an impressive bunch of characters.
This is only the second epistolary (story told through letters) book that I've enjoyed tremendously, the first being Dracula
. I'm always uncertain about books like these, because it's challenging to develop the book's characters through letters. It's also hard to prevent repetition while maintaining the letters' authenticity. The Guernsey Literary
managed to overcome both the issues and keep the book entertaining and fun. There were many points where I laughed out loud, and points when I went all respectfully-mournful and thoughtful. At the same time, the epistolary style made it conducive for reading at work - it was easy to put it down at the end of each letter. The book also didn't have a major plot driver until at least the midway point which, although would usually bother me, worked perfectly here because it went with the coziness and quirkiness of the book.
Some of my best passages in the book were all about reading. Any book lover will want to print out those quotes and paste them up on their work spaces or reading corners. There is one portion where Juliet dumps her boyfriend because he boxed all her books down to the basement and put up his shiny athletic trophies up for display ('You go, Juliet!'). Most of the characters spoke passionately about the books they read, much akin to what happens in book clubs (and blogs). Eventually, I enjoyed the book more than I expected to, and its vivid atmosphere has spawned a desire in me to visit Guernsey.