Friday, February 1, 2013

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

It's 1946 and the United Kingdom is recovering from the Second World War. While living in London, writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a man in Guernsey, an island in the English Channel off the coast of Normandy, which was captured by the Nazis during the war.

This letter sparks a series of written exchanges that reveal to Juliet a remarkable literary society that was formed on the small British dependency during the war. As she begins to receive letters from the inhabitants of Guernsey, she begins to learn the remarkable story of a rural, seaside community that would gather to discuss books, as they suffered through the horror of the German occupation. This discovery eventually leads her to travel to the small island where her life will be changed forever.

From a stylistic point of view this novel is truly remarkable. Rather than using a traditional literary narrative, the story is structured through a series of letters and occasional telegrams, by or to Juliet. Despite my initial doubts, this innovative writing technique did not negatively impact the narrative flow in any way. In fact, even though the entire story is written through letters and telegrams, the pace and character development flowed just as well as in the best novels.

The plot is also very original. Many people may not know (myself included before reading this book) that the Nazis occupied part of the English channel. Strictly speaking, Guernsey was a piece of England that was captured during the war. Recounting this history, while blending it with a story that celebrates literature, is a true joy to read.

That being said, one critique that I do have is the ending. While I found the plot, literary style and narrative flow to be outstanding, I got the sense by the end of the book that the co-authors had run out of ideas and were scrambling to finish the story. The unfortunate result is a Hollywood-like ending that feels forced and disjointed. This disappointed me, because overall I thought this was an extraordinary book, and I would have liked to have read an ending that was more worthy of its potential.

4 out of 5 stars