Friday, April 16, 2010

Review: "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I find that I have the tendency to shy away from "bestsellers" or books that have been raved about all over the blogosphere. Sometimes I'll read these books and find out that for me, they couldn't live up to the hype surrounding them. Then I'm disappointed. What I'm trying to do here is explain why I waited so long to read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society , when in fact it is a book that fulfilled every expectation that I had for it and more.

It is January, 1946. London, England is just beginning to rebuild after the Second World War. Juliet Ashton is on a book tour for a book that she wrote during the war meant to lift the spirits of those who read it, and is looking for inspiration for a new book, one completely different from her first. When she receives a letter from a stranger, Dawsey Adams, a man who lives in Guernsey and is in possession of one of her old books, she begins a friendship through correspondence with him and the entire Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. She discovers how their literary society came to be, and she forms lasting friendships in the process.

I can't even describe fully how much I loved this book. It is comprised entirely of letters and telegrams between the characters in the book, a format that I love, and I couldn't devour it fast enough. The characters are what made the book so engrossing, though. Juliet is strong-willed and a talented writer, and her enthusiasm was contagious. Sidney, her close friend and one of the owners of her publishing company, was protective of her and caring. The people that she meets in Guernsey were people that I would all have loved to meet in real life- big-hearted, determined to put the horrors of the war and Occupation behind them, yet warm and loving. The war scarred them, but didn't change them beyond recognition.

Another aspect of the book that I loved is that it showed multiple sides of the war. It wasn't black and white- Germans= bad, everyone else= good. There were a few times when those who lived in Guernsey described a German soldier who was kind-hearted, or compassionate towards those that they were essentially imprisoning. It would be so easy to villanize every one of them, but those in Guernsey were able to show compassion to those who deserved it.

Despite the many heart-wrenching scenes, the saddest part of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society was that it ended. It had it all- a compelling story, a new perspective on the war, humour, and romance. I was also saddened to learn that Mary Ann Shaffer passed away in February 2008, shortly after her debut novel was released. I'm sure that I'm not the only one who would have loved to read more from her and her niece. Ultimately, this is one book that every fiction lover should take the time to read.

Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Recommended to: Everyone who loves fiction, especially to those interested in World War II (but you truly don't have to be interested in the war to love this one)
Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge 2010, New Author Challenge 2010, 2010 Support Your Local Library Challenge, Read, Remember, Recommend Fiction Reading Challenge (mentioned on pgs.90,97,121,136)


  1. I was quite sad when it ended to. I nearly opened up to page one and began again. And I will but I did not yet.

  2. Great review. I've seen it around and even picked it up once to buy it, but didn't. I can see now that was a mistake. It's now on my wishlist. ;)

  3. sounds like a really good read. Will have to keep and eye out for it. Thanks.

  4. I am really anxious to read this one. I haven't read anything but good reviews.

  5. Awesome! I have seen this book in the stores as well and passed it up several times. I thought it was a knockoff of the "ya ya sisterhood" or something like that. I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed it. I bet I would like it as well. I also love the "letter" format as you describe.

    I was disappointed in my book mishap from the librarians - the Love in the time of Cholic: Getting it on after kids book. What a dud! I didn't even finish it cover to cover but skimmed it instead.

  6. I feel exactly the same way about books that get lots of raves - I worry that they will disappoint! I am glad to hear that this one doesn't - I have it on the shelf!

  7. I just loved this book too. I wanted to go to Guernsey after I read it.

  8. So glad this one lived up to your expectations -- I know exactly what you mean! When a book has been hyped up so much, I'm nervous to read it... afraid that it will fail to move me.

    I had the same apprehension about Guernsey but just fell in love with it and the many characters! I couldn't read it fast enough and still think about it often.

  9. I loved this book, too. It was different from the other WWII books that I read, in that it's a more light-hearted seriousness.

    I hope it's okay that I linked to your review on the Book Reviews: WWII page on War Through the Generations.

    Diary of an Eccentric