This novel is every bit as extraordinary as its name. Funny, touching, moving, with a great atmosphere and lovable characters, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” is fiction at its best. It is gratifying to witness the global success of a heart-warming story from an unknown writer. The authors’ lack of fame is also what drew me to this novel. Like many readers today, American born, Mary Ann Schaffer was a member of a book club that encouraged her to write a novel.
“The seed for this book was planted quite by accident. On a whim, I flew to Guernsey and was fascinated by my brief glimpse of the island’s history and beauty. From that visit came this book, albeit many years later. Unfortunately, books don’t spring fully formed from their authors’ foreheads. This one required years of research and writing and, above all, the patience and support of my husband Dick Schaffer, and my daughters Liz and Morgan. They insisted that I actually sit down at the computer and type, and it was these twin forces at my back that propelled the book into being,” said Mary Ann Schaffer.
Soon after her manuscript was sold to Bloomsbury, Schaffer fell ill and she asked her niece, Annie Barrows, to finish the book. At the time of her death, publishers from around the world wanted to buy her book; it became an instant international bestseller. Mary Ann’s wish of writing a book someone would like enough to publish was fulfilled beyond expectation.
The novel takes us on a journey into another age through lively letters that tell an unforgettable story. The entire book is written in a format of letters, but it only takes a couple of pages to understand who the characters are and to get used to the epistolary layout.
The novel’s heroine, Juliet Ashton, a talented but moderately successful writer, receives a letter from a stranger, Dawsey Adams, who had discovered her address in a book she once owned. He introduces her to the members of the Guernsey Literary Club and thus begins an extraordinary correspondence — lighthearted, humorous, and even tragic at times.
There are many reasons for loving this book, but after all has been said, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” remains a novel about the power of books and the pleasure of reading. The society with its quirky name was born as a spontaneous alibi when its members were found violating the curfew by the Germans occupying their island. The impromptu book club brought together men and women from all walks of life who found joy and consolation in literature during World War II.
The novel reminds us of a time when people used to write letters, which required time and a bit of thought. Most of us communicate now through e-mails or text messages, but that can never replace the habit of writing letters. The author reacquaints us with the exquisite but dying art of writing letters. Geoff Kloske, head of Riverhead Books, explained that in a letter: “The writing of complete sentences for aural pleasure as well as news is going the way of the playing of musical instruments; it’s becoming a specialty rather than a means most people have to a little amateur, unselfconscious enjoyment. This isn’t the end of the world for literature. In a sense, it only intensifies its role as the repository of our linguistic imagination”.
I can’t remember the last time I read such an enchanting novel. The characters are beautiful, and their friendship touching. We can hardly wait for the heroine to visit her newly found friends from the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and when she does, we are ready to accompany her on a trip that will change her forever. Easily read in one sitting, this tale of friendship is utterly captivating.