Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Peer pressure potato peel pie

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (Dial, 2008) is a book I only read because of peer pressure. Everywhere I went, it seemed that people were talking about it. It's not the sort of book I seek out: epistolary, historical, some romance...those are three of my strikes. Because I am a literary lemming, I got out my library card and requested it. Skipping the flap copy, I dove right in.

Picture it: London, 1946. Juliet Ashton is a writer who made a name for herself writing columns under a pen name for the London Spectator. She's proud of her success, but a series of letters to her editor, Sidney Stark, show that she's at a crossroads. What should she write next? While Juliet ponders this, she receives a letter from a Mr. Dawsey Adams of St. Martin's Parish, Guernsey. Dawsey has a book of Juliet's, a collection of essays by Charles Lamb, and he just had to write to see if she knew where he could get more of Mr. Lamb's work.

A book that revolves around people who love books has to be good, right?

The letters between Juliet and Dawsey evolve into Juliet's correspondence with the members of the Guernsey Potato Peel Pie and Literary Society, which formed not as a literary society but as a cover for a group of people being out after curfew on their German-occupied island. Through their letters, Juliet learns that the people of Guernsey survived near-starvation and being cut off from the news during the war. In much the way that people form friendships over the internet today, Juliet forms bonds with the readers (and writers) of Guernsey. Her letters to her publisher and best friend are observant, funny, and inspiring. Guernsey goes on to become the idea for Juliet's next book, and the people are the kind of friends she's wanted all her life.

Before I read this book I couldn't have found Guernsey on a map, but now I'm intrigued by its story. For me, this was a "good writing trumps all" book, because even though I'm not the average reader of women's fiction or historical fiction, I stayed with this book because of the voices. The way Juliet fell in love with the people of Guernsey reinforces the power of the written word. The peripheral characters were most interesting for what they didn't relate to Juliet as much as what they did. (And I loved the character who wanted to be Miss Marple and decided she would knit and observe the world.) Books brought these people together, and books are how they relate to each other. That is something anyone who loves to read, librarian or not, can understand.


tanita davis said...

Oh, good, someone else is feeling peer pressured! I haven't yet "caved," but a good review from a trusted source makes me feel more confident than gushing from friends who loved the last Dan Brown book, too!

Janssen said...

Glad you drank the Guernsey kool-aid :)