Monday 28 September 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is the Reading group's book for October. A delightful little book too. Set in London and Guernsey during 1946 the story unfolds via a series of letters. Just about all the letters feature Juliet Ashton either as the letter writer or the recipient. The book is very much Juliet's story and in essence it is a love story. As with all good love stories this one has many ups and downs and lots of false dawns, but it all ends happily.

Juliet is a single, 32 year old successful writer, and with the end of the war is looking for a topic for a new book. Quite by chance she receives a letter from a Dawsey Adams, a farmer among other things, who has, again quite by chance, come into the possession of a book by Charles Lamb, which once belonged to Juliet. It is now January 1946 and Dawsey is keen to get his hands on more books by and about Charles Lamb. Unfortunately there are no bookshops left on Guernsey after the war. As Juliet's address was on the inside cover, Dawsey decides to write to her on spec as it were, to ask her for the names of good bookshops in London that would send him books by post. In his letter Dawsey mentions, again almost by chance, the existence of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Juliet is of course intrigued by the request and even more by the strangely named society. And thus begins her quest to find out more about the society and life in Guernsey during the occupation.

This brings Juliet into contact with a wide and interesting range of characters, nearly all of whom are only too delighted to share their experiences of living through the occupation. Juliet becomes so enamoured of the stories and the people that she decides to go and visit the island herself. Once there she becomes even more enamoured with the people and the place and eventually decides to remain on the island. By the end of course she has found true love and is about to get married. And she has adopted a little girl. Not bad for a research visit.

As will be garnered from the above this is a very lightly told tale. Though it does not hide from the horrors and suffering that people on the island had to live through during the occupation, the tone is always gentle and uplifting. This was the only book to be written by Mary Ann Shaffer who died, aged 73, just before the book was published. She writes in the acknowledgements at the end, “I hope, too, that my book will illuminate my belief that love of art – be it poetry, storytelling, painting, sculpture, or music – enables people to transcend any barrier man has yet devised.” A fitting epitaph to a very enjoyable book.

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