K'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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's review
Nov 19, 2009

it was ok
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.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
November 19, 2009 – Shelved
November 20, 2009 –
page 28
10.22% "Readable so far, but points off for the story of Juliet's broken engagement. Give me a break!"
November 21, 2009 –
page 118
November 21, 2009 – Shelved as: historicalfiction
November 21, 2009 – Shelved as: marysues
May 2, 2011 – Shelved as: maybe-it-s-me

Comments (showing 1-35 of 35) (35 new)

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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.

Marie 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!

message 28: by Robyn (last edited Dec 02, 2016 11:49AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Robyn I haven't finished reading the book yet, but I rather like it.

Life is so much more enjoyable since I relaxed my snobbishness. I save my superiority primarily for theology & politics... any doctrine that devalues certain demographics for the benefit of the "chosen."

I don't need to admire a character to find her interesting. I don't see Juliet as superior. She's just a girl, basically, who has been through a lot and is trying to adapt to life in peacetime & pursue her goals.

I had been under the impression this book was about Jews & might include Holocaust related material. I was pleased to find it highlighted another facet of war experience. I've decided every read doesn't have to be "important," nor can I have my heart ripped out by everything I read. .

I actually bought "Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons" because it looked amusing and I figured it would have quirky characters & multiple storylines. However, upon reading the opening scene, I had to put it down because "I" was the woman in that bed, and I was not surrounded by a sisterhood of friends. I would have probably read it if I knew the lady would recover, but my own fragility at that time left me unable to read it otherwise. I needed to escape!

I have just finished "Autobiography of an ExColored Man" by James Weldon Johnson for the fourth time (one of the few books I ever read more than once). Now, there's a fictional character who lives & breathes! Especially when listened to, narrated by James K. White. (Libravox) I decided to choose something different, so I dipped into my most recent thrift store book haul cache and now I'm reading this. It feels good to be reading again after a few years of intense brain fog.

message 29: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K Hi, Robyn,

Thanks for your comment. I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. Personally, I feel everyone is entitled to their tastes and preferences. I've been on the other end of this as well, and enjoyed books that others felt were substandard. It would be a terribly boring world, certainly here on goodreads, if all of us loved and hated the same books.

I didn't care for "Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons," I actually liked it less than The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. As for "Autobiography of an ExColored Man," that sounds quite interesting! I'll have to check it out.

rivka Robyn wrote: "Life is so much more enjoyable since I relaxed my snobbishness."

I happen to have really liked this book, but I still don't think this comment is fair. Why assume that someone's dislike of a book is due to snobbishness?

Really, there's no accounting for taste -- and no one should ever have to account for theirs.

message 31: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K Thanks so much for your comment, Rivka. I completely agree with you. I also feel that being willing to read critically adds to my overall enjoyment of reading and gives me a deeper appreciation for the books I do like. If that makes me a snob, so be it. I can live with that.

message 32: by Robyn (last edited Dec 04, 2016 03:16PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Robyn K, I meant no offense. I was only referring to your own humorously confessed snobbishness, which is so common among intelligent people. I was confessing my own "guilt" in this area. We are in good company. C.S. Lewis is among the members of this club of self acknowledged elitests. He struggled over it.

Please forgive me.

I'm 54 years of age and after a lifetime of being compulsively analytical, I am saving that for the big stuff like the state of American democracy and how much progress we could make if people could walk in each other's shoes for awhile.

I am not saying I don't read critically, but I'm aware we often judge literature and characters through the lenses of our own experience, or lack of it. There were books I judged as simplistic at 20 and 30 that I now recognize as weighty, even profound expressions of things I could not have personally appreciated at the time. I also experience the same in my perception of people. There are people who I dismissed lightly in years gone by that I now remember with regret and find the words I dismissed before as wisdom. Others, who I esteemed, have been revealed as narrow and hard. Perhaps they were not always, or perhaps I just see them clearer now.

In reading the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I "feel" these main characters as souls who have been battered against craggy stone by violent winds and waves. They are perhaps "stone washed," like the most comfortable pair of jeans. Perhaps I judge them as delicately as the grip of their electronic clothespins. I enjoy the freedom of being gently wafted in the breeze in their company.

I am not judging you. I only meant to introduce a different perspective. I am defending the characters and sharing my own heart.

I err on the side of transparency as I got tired of playing social hide and seek. I got tired of always being behind a glass. It might be safer, and I had hoards of "friends," but I don't have energy for that now. I'm rather like the Velveteen Rabbit. Disreputable to some, but raggedly real.

I hope my explanation has not caused further offense.

message 33: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K No worries, Robyn. I think my experience may be different from yours. Over the years, for better or for worse, I've become a lot pickier about my fiction and often prefer non-fiction. As I get older and more cynical, I have more and more trouble suspending my disbelief and immersing myself in a story, and it takes a lot more on the author's part for me to do that. With non-fiction, even if I find the book mediocre, I still walk away feeling like I've learned something and it was worth my time for that. With fiction that I find mediocre, though, I feel frustrated that I spent time reading a story that didn't engage me. I still do read and enjoy some fiction, but my fiction tastes have narrowed while my non-fiction tastes have broadened. I suspect I might have enjoyed this book a lot more had I read it when I was younger and more open to fiction in general. I know lots of other people did. And like I said, every now and then I find myself wholly absorbed in a novel and loving it, and then discovering that many goodreaders totally trashed it, sometimes with pretty convincing arguments.

Robyn I did learn a bit from this reality based novel. I really knew nothing of Guernsey except as a breed of cattle! I am insanely curious about almost everything, so did a little fact seeking about Guernsey and found it interesting.

There is another novel about Guernsey during the Nazi occupation, called "Rachel's Shoes." It is written by a Guernsey local. Perhaps you will like it better.

I'm an ex-PollyAnna, and deep inside, I long for there to be goodness and honesty in this world. So.... I tend to be merciful toward anyone or anything that is not part of a deliberate effort to deceive, oppress or manipulate people. Hopeful cynicism can be a difficult mindset to maintain.

Living in the USA in 2016, reality is so stressful, people are watching zombie movies for distraction.

message 35: by K (new) - rated it 2 stars

K Yes, the Guernsey aspect was educational. Thanks for the book recommendation -- I'll have to check it out. I hear you on the hopeful cynicism stance, but it's the one that feels authentic for me. I have a hard time relating to fictional characters that seem too pollyannish. I find that people who are like that in real life are sometimes more complex when you get to know them, but when that doesn't come across for me in a novel the story loses my interest.

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