Book Review: "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society"

July 29, 2009

After a year of Amazon and various other engines recommending this book at me, I finally caved while wandering around the SEA-TAC airport aimlessly. It was either this book or ‘The Shack’ or some sort of Twilight derivative or something I’d already read. So.

Completely enjoyable. Manipulatively sad and winsome, pokes at various hormone sacks in you until you give up and start weeping slightly. Injects sentimentality at well-researched moments.

This is an epistolary novel–that is, entirely written as exchanged letters between the somewhat over-plentiful cast of characters–so it’s rather convenient that the characters have an adorable tendency to be extraordinarily expository.

The facile plot device here is that Guernsey (one of the UK’s Channel Islands) was occupied during WWII (this happens to be true) by the Germans (also true), which just happens to have the side effect of isolating the island’s inhabitants from whatever history was going down on the continent and in England. Sure. This is feasible (and again, true).

What a boon! A well-timed ignorance of the populace that gives the book’s authors (there are two; more on this shortly) a very effective mechanism to insert explanatory paragraphs into those letters shooting back and forth over the channel: those enlightened folks in England actually have to tell Guernsey residents what went down.

This works, mostly. But I’m not willing to believe that a Guernsey resident in the 1940′s would not know who Prince Albert is without having to have it explained to them (Queen Victoria’s tragic prince consort). That doesn’t fly.

Our heroine, Juliet, is one of those pre-packaged literary-independent-sparkling creatures that a modern reader couldn’t help but root for, stepping afoul of sensible tradition time after time in adorable fashion. The Guernsey residents a lovable ragtag crew of farmers, shrews, and widows. There are tea cozies and cottages. In short, both endearing and unutterably twee (usually I don’t use the term ‘unutterably’ because it’s contradictory–I just DID utter it).

Though the ultimate outcome of the book is obvious from a mile away, there are some pops and blasts in the middle of the story that did make me catch my breath. Guernsey’s captivating and mysterious idiosyncrasies are used to good effect as a foil to contrast with the mind-blasting violence of the war. Cue some horrifying scenes in German concentration camps and bombing raids in London. There’s nothing new here, but it’s still a bit of a shake-up.

For all my condescension, I enjoyed every moment of reading this book. And I have a dreadfully strong desire to visit Guernsey now (along with, I’m sure, fifty million other middle-aged women’s book clubs–gak!).

3.5 stars

  1. Chris says:

    Ack! I thought it was fluff, but I avoid saying so to avoid offending people. There are plenty who loved it. The buzz about this book reminds me of “Bridges of Madison County” (now published almost 2 decades ago).

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