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Lunch » Tags » Untagged » The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: A Novel » User review

Pass the Pie, Please

  • Oct 27, 2012
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In general, it is difficult to craft flesh and blood passionate characters through the technique of the epistolary novel. The viewpoints depicted are often one-dimensional as letters are usually written to make an announcement, get to a point, perhaps make a request or relate some above-average event. Although I believe that one's voice can be revealed through letters, I do not think that the characters of Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows in their The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society present themselves as thoroughly and as intimately through descriptions of their demeanor and actions as they could have been showcased in a novel written in a third person narration.

But then again, Potato Peel Society is meant to be an upbeat little story that intertwines a dark hour in the world's history with the universal hope of being human. The letters as the only real form of distance communication must be viewed as heraldic newsletters where the writers have already survived the events and are now reporting the past in terms of their triumph as examples of what it means to healthily "move on" and not wallow.

Viewing Potato Peel Society in this sense works. We become members of a private club of islanders who in their isolation during the German occupation of WW2 must devise a way to get through the every day of hunger, anger, defeat and despair. They do--some do it better than others--and we, as readers, hear of it all in the form of stories as related to the lead character and letter writer, Ms Juliet Ashton, a column journalist for a London newspaper who is at a crossroads with regard to the rest of her life.

Shaffer and Barrows do write with a love of literature; they quite rightly focus on what the thoughts of writers might mean to people who have no other outlet. How many times have you read a book and then read over the writer's words and wondered at how that person could convey the emotion that you yourself were feeling or had felt at some key point in your life? The great surge of universality does wash over you and you do feel the power of the pen and connectivity on an Absolute level far stronger than some of the senseless pings and narcissistic announcements of Facebook. Shaffer and Barrows most ashamedly pull out all the romanticized stops--their situations are most definitely contrived and meant as English student teaching points for the reader who has little need to ponder metaphor. An unhappier reality does intervene in the form of concentration camps, needless deaths, children separated from their families, hunger, desolation, arrests and cruelty which, at times does seem bleak in the face of all the cheery letters bandied back and forth.

Nevertheless, Juliet as the eternal and feisty optimist does become enchanted with her collection of islanders and quite predictably opts to take on the role of more than just an honorary member of the Society. The authors take advantage of many of the situation comedies of the 40's cinema to contrive an extravagantly outcome for all involved in tone with their theme of love and hope arising from the ashes of the Blitz, the desolation of the work camp and the frustration of being captured on your home turf.

Bottom line? In "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society," authors Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows strive to craft an epistolary novel that depicts the seriousness of the plight of the island of Guernsey during the German Occupation of WW2 while lauding its residents' obvious patriotism and steadfastness in the face of hardship and great adversity. At times, the seemingly contrived naivety of main character Juliet despite her orphaned past might frustrate some looking for more depth, but for those desiring an entertainment read with some hard facts that do not diminish the overall joy of the story, a serving of Potato Peel Pie might make the perfect dessert. Recommended.
Diana Faillace Von Behren

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review by . July 24, 2008
About the reviewer
Diana Faillace Von Behren ()
Ranked #166
I like just about anything. My curiosity tends to be insatiable--I love the "finding out" and the "ah-ha" moments.      Usually I review a book or film with the … more
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The letters comprising this small charming novel begin in 1946, when single, 30-something author Juliet Ashton (nom de plume Izzy Bickerstaff) writes to her publisher to say she is tired of covering the sunny side of war and its aftermath. When Guernsey farmer Dawsey Adams finds Juliet's name in a used book and invites articulate—and not-so-articulate—neighbors to write Juliet with their stories, the book's epistolary circle widens, putting Juliet back in the path of war stories. The occasionally contrived letters jump from incident to incident—including the formation of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society while Guernsey was under German occupation—and person to person in a manner that feels disjointed. But Juliet's quips are so clever, the Guernsey inhabitants so enchanting and the small acts of heroism so vivid and moving that one forgives the authors (Shaffer died earlier this year) for not being able to settle on a single person or plot. Juliet finds in the letters not just inspiration for her next work, but also for her life—as will readers.(Aug.)
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