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

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
F 50x66
's review
Nov 21, 09

bookshelves: historicalfiction, marysues, maybe-it-s-me
Recommended to K by: Extremely polarized goodreads reviews
Recommended for: Very uncritical readers seeking an entertaining novel

First, a quick summary in case anyone reading this review doesn’t know the basic premise of the novel: Just after WWII, 33-year-old writer Juliet Ashton, enjoying the success of her first book and suffering writer’s block, discovers a group of people living on Guernsey, a British island occupied by the Nazis during the war. After being caught in violation of curfew during the occupation and needing an alibi, the Guernsey natives pretended to have been participating in a book club meeting. The natives ended up forming a real book club that continued meeting even after the war, composed of a variety of offbeat characters who begin corresponding with Juliet and charming her. Juliet ends up visiting Guernsey, getting to know the book club members, and writing about them.

This book combined the situation of “Suite Francaise,” the heroine (and some plot devices) of “Love Walked In,” the epistolary style of “84 Charing Cross Road,” and the theme of “Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons.” As I read it, my cynical reader battled with my forgiving reader in a running dialogue.

Cynical reader: Juliet is one ANNOYING chick. The new Mary Sue – on top of all her other wonderful qualities, we give her personality by making her witty! And charming! And cute! And everyone loves her! Unless they’re miserable people with no sense of humor! And don’t we all wish we were her!

Forgiving reader: Oh, come on. Okay, so Juliet is a bit much. But the book’s not bad. You’re still reading, aren’t you?

Cynical reader: And that story about her broken engagement! Give me a fat break! Yeah, like someone as intellectually curious as Juliet is supposed to be would actually get as far as engagement with a guy who would then move out all her books in favor of his sports trophies. And fail to understand why that’s a problem for her. Oh, THAT’s believable.

Forgiving reader: Yeah, I’ll give you that one. A little too much effort to show us how important books are to Juliet, when we probably could have figured it out some subtler way.

Cynical reader: Subtlety was definitely not this book's strong point. And what’s with all these books about people finding redemption through books anyway? Daniel said this better than I will, so here’s a quote from his review of “The Book Thief:”

“Yes, we all love books and believe them valuable -- we wouldn't be readers of this book or any other if we didn't -- but reading doesn't solve everything. The escapism offered by literature is wonderful if you're trying to get away from your dreary job or the drudgery of school, but I find it unlikely it'll make you forget the bombs falling on your neighborhood if you're living in a country at war… I'm just getting sick of all these recently published books telling me how great books are. I know that already. Television shows don't feel a need to keep telling me how fantastic television is, and movies don't keep reminding me that movies are really wonderful, so books don't need to be so defensive either. Just be a really good book, then I'll remember how great literature is.”

Amen, Daniel. At first I really liked novels like “The Thirteenth Tale” and “Shadow of the Wind” which affirmed my love for books, but the theme is getting old. And all these Guernsey farmers suddenly finding fulfillment through literature? Huh? And with such a limited selection of books? I mean, how come none of them ever finds any of the few available books boring, or over their heads?

Forgiving reader: Maybe having fewer books to choose from forces you to read and appreciate books that you’d normally view as too challenging.

Cynical reader: I’m in that situation, thank you very much. Read – yes. Appreciate – not necessarily.

Forgiving reader: And maybe you shouldn’t be so critical of an author’s full-length novel if you can’t even write a review without quoting someone else’s. Just a thought.

Cynical reader: Yeah, I do feel a little guilty. Especially since, with all my gripes, I’m still reading.

Forgiving reader: Yes – for all your criticism, I don’t see you abandoning the book. You, with your ironclad 50-page limit for books you’re not enjoying.

Cynical reader: True. It’s not quite bad enough to put down. But maybe I’m just seeking more material for my review.

Forgiving reader: Or maybe you’re seeing what some of your friends saw – that it’s a light, enjoyable read and that sometimes it’s worth suspending some critical thought in favor of just enjoying a book for what it is.

Cynical reader: You know, I just can’t decide whether this is one of those times. I mean, I loved “Water for Elephants.” Then I read all these goodreads reviews pointing out, aptly, that the romance was too unbelievable and whatnot. And I had a similar experience with “Outlander,” and “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” But I still loved reading those books, despite the legitimate criticism out there.

Forgiving reader: So maybe this book could be in that category. And remember – with those other books, you read the negative reviews AFTER you’d already enjoyed them and formed your impressions. In this case, the negative reviews may have prejudiced you.

Cynical reader: True. All the same, I’m not loving this one. I guess I’ve read books I’ve hated more than this one, but this book definitely has more than its fair share of eye-rolling moments and not a lot of compensatory factors. And I’m finding it way too emotionally manipulative.

Forgiving reader: I feel myself getting weaker…

Cynical reader: I mean, I really can’t stand child characters who are simply miniature Mary Sues modeled after Shirley Temple, so obviously designed to tug at your heartstrings. I have four kids of my own, okay? Where’s the whining? Where are the tantrums? And here, this kid has absent parents and what has to be inconsistent upbringing as various community members share the responsibility for her care – how can she be consistently endearing? Oh – and the one time when she’s rude, it’s because she’s the only one who sees through the evil villain.

Forgiving reader: …and weaker…

Cynical reader: I thought Juliet was bad, but Elizabeth is way larger-than-life. Does she ever do anything that's less than heroic? And I’m getting a little tired of piles upon piles of charming oddball characters who seem quaint and cute at first but, in the final analysis, are pretty superficially drawn, not to mention repetitive. And don’t even get me started on the sudden appearance of graphic holocaust scenes. You KNOW how I feel about that.

Forgiving reader: You can’t give it just one star, though. You did finish it. And it was readable. And even if you didn’t like it much, it didn’t demand a whole lot from you so you can’t really complain.

Cynical reader: Okay, two stars. I didn’t hate it, exactly. And I can see where it might work as a light, quick read for someone who’s in the mood for something sentimental and not too taxing.
9 likes · likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
sign in »

Reading Progress

11/20/2009 page 28
10.22% "Readable so far, but points off for the story of Juliet's broken engagement. Give me a break!"
show 1 hidden update…

Comments (showing 1-27 of 27) (27 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

La Petite Américaine oooohhh can't wait to hear what you think.


message 2: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K Yeah -- I can't wait to see what I think either! If I somehow end up liking it, though, I hope you'll still be my friend. ;)


La Petite Américaine Of course I will! :) I don't care if people in my life have different opinions than I do, its what keeps things interesting :)


message 4: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K Ditto. :)


rivka Amen!


Rebecca If we're taking bets I'm betting you won't much care for it, it's very simplistic, but hey, I liked it. This is one review I'm really looking forward to.


message 7: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K Oh, my -- the pressure's on! Rebecca, you read me right -- I don't usually go for simplistic. On the other hand, occasionally I do get pulled in by something sweet and sentimental, especially if I'm coming off of a heavier book and feel like I need something light (which happens to be the case right now). So we'll see how it goes...


Rebecca Now I wish I'd put actual money on it! I think you need to be in the right mood to enjoy this book...and judging from what you've written, i think your 'forgiving reader' needs urgent medical attention, but still, an enjoyable review.


message 9: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K I'm glad you liked the review, Rebecca! I agree -- I think the mood needs to be right, and I also think I may have been prejudiced by the negative reviews I read. My forgiving reader was a lot more dominant before I discovered goodreads.


Ariella I like your review. It was alot of what I was thinking throughout also. But I guess your "forgiving reader" summed it up for me:

Forgiving reader: Or maybe you’re seeing what some of your friends saw – that it’s a light, enjoyable read and that sometimes it’s worth suspending some critical thought in favor of just enjoying a book for what it is.

Thats basically what I thought about it. But, I do think that it falls into that no-mans-land of it all depends on where you, the reader are in your life if you appreciate the book/can suspend your disbelief or not. I was very happy to suspend my disbelief for Like Water for Elephants. I think it was a fantastic tale that drew me in and I totally didnt care if there were alot of inconsistencies or unrealistic parts. I like to be entertained and thta certainly did it for me. But The Time Travelers Wife I didnt like. I got up to a certain point in the book and then just coudlnt do it anymore. I think it also boils down to expectations. When you hear too many praises about something or too much criticism it tends to affect the way you react to the thing as well. I am glad you read it though.


message 11: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K Thanks, Ariella! It's true that fluffy books often tread the fine and flexible line between light and enjoyable and just plain dumb, and that that line is different for everyone, and can even be different for the same person depending on where they are at the time.

A lot of my friends also disliked "The Time Traveler's Wife." And I definitely agree with you re. expectations. Sometimes hearing too many good things about a book before you read it is a set-up for disappointment. Plus, there's always that perverse part of me that takes pleasure in hating books that everyone else likes. I try to fight that part of myself and to be intellectually honest about whether a book lives up to its hype, but I don't always succeed.


Ariella I think its hard to succeed in that. I also suffer from the "akida-davida" syndrome as my husband puts it. You disllike it b/c everyone else likes it. Why do you think that is? Contrarianism. (Sp???) Its like thta with me and movies too. I really hated Titanic.


message 13: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K I didn't even go see Titanic! I was sure I would hate it, especially since, as I told people at the time, I already know how it ends. For me, I think it's about snobbishness. I have a belief that if too many people like something, it can't really be that good; really good things are appreciated by the select minority, not by the vast majority. But I can think of lots of counter-examples to that belief. I think that there are things that appeal to the masses because they're actually good, and things that appeal to the masses because they're emotionally manipulative and the masses get taken in by them. And then, there are some things on the border between those two categories where some think it's the former and others think it's the latter.


Skylar Burris "For me, I think it's about snobbishness. I have a belief that if too many people like something, it can't really be that good"

Glad to know I'm not the only one who suffers from that problem... :) I've probably missed out on some good things because of it.


message 15: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K Yes, although the joys of being a snob may be worth it! ;)


Rebecca Yeah I also am guilty of the whole snobbishness thing, thats why I tend not to read too many goodreads reviews...we'd all make very lousy communists by looking down upon the masses though...


message 17: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K I guess snobbishness isn't very idealistic. Sure is fun, though! I don't know about you, but I don't get many opportunities in my life to feel smug and superior other than ripping popular books now and then. Somehow that's a redemptive function of books that often gets overlooked in these novels about reading-as-redemption!


Ariella You are right Khaya! All the characters in this book loved the books they read! Not one bad review. Huh!


message 19: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K That's right. Have you ever read a book where the character disliked a book? I'm wondering whether there's some insidious propaganda going on for the publishing industry...


Ariella Gernerally if there is a book included in a novel it is b/c its affected a character in a positive way. I cannot think of any examples where a book has had a negative affect on a character. But there you go- a great premise for an interesting novel for you to write! (you can mention me in the credits :) )


message 21: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K One day, one day...

But then it would have to be subjected to criticism from goodreads! Scary thought.


message 22: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K Thanks Elizabeth! I agree that the 3-star reviews are often the most challenging to write.


Ariella Re the critiques on Goodreads: There is no bad press. The worst would be if people DIDNT review your book at all.


message 24: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K Very true.


Overthemoon Another rating we have in common. How this book got such traction I will never know. But I guess that's what makes the world go 'round!


message 26: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K Very true. Glad we agree!


message 27: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K Very true. Glad we agree!


back to top