The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society first aired on Netflix in 2018. Moments into the movie I fell in love—with the characters, plot, era, location, and the ode to handwritten letters. Once the 2 hours and 4 minutes of cinematic masterpiece had concluded, I was left desperately wanting more. And so began my re-watching…over and over again. Somewhere along the way, I had discovered (via my friend Rachel) that The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society was based on a novel. Of course, I went to my local bookstore to pick up a copy. But, as the story goes, life picked up and I became quite busy/distracted. My longing to dive back into 1946 Guernsey and meet the familiar Dawsey Adams had subsided. It wasn’t until this past weekend when rewatching the movie, I had recalled that there was a pristine copy—pages unturned and perfectly pressed, sitting on my bookshelf.
Call it serendipity or consistency of practicing slow and conscious living—I had come down with strep throat and a nasty cold over the weekend and yesterday I spent the entire day reading. I felt like I was a young girl again having a sick day well spent. I would often finish books in one sitting or at least make a decent dent in the story. I only put The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society down long enough to eat and care for the dogs.
What is the book about?
The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society is an epistolary novel—a story told through letters written by multiple characters. Set in 1946, at the end of World War II, it all started when writer, Juliet Ashton, received a letter from an unknown person with the address and stamp of a location within the Channel Islands. It is revealed that the sender, a Mr. Dawsey Adams, had come across Juliet’s previously owned copy of Charles Lamb—Juliet’s name and address were written in the cover. Dawsey had explained how the book and Juliet had helped him and others cope during the war. The Germans had invaded and occupied the Channel Islands—the only English territory to be in Hitler’s control.
Dawsey’s story and the invitation into the lives of others within their book club—The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, have opened Juliet’s eyes to understanding what the war was like for a place she had not once tough of. While she dodged bombs throughout London and had a traumatic encounter (or rather multiple) of her own to tell during war times, she sets out to learn what it was like for the islanders who had to live with the enemy.
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“January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb.
As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.
Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.
Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.”
The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society
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I was unsure at first how the story would keep my interest and attention since it is written all in the format of letters to/between the characters. There were about a dozen or so characters introduced, which towards the middle of the book focuses more intently on a select few: the society members and of course, our gal, Juliet. In all honesty, I was a bit bored the first five pages into it. I didn’t think that I would love the book as much as I did the movie. I thought that having a story written exclusively in letters would eliminate the detail, attachment, and purpose of the characters. But, I was happily wrong. While I do wish the book was longer and there was more story from Juliet, Dawsey, and Isola, I appreciate the balance and well-roundedness of the plot. This was more than a love story or spotlighting the realities from the aftermath of World War II. This book was about love, yes, but it showcased the multitude of it and the many forms love takes on. I found myself wondering how Isola was doing with * a thing * she had been working on and when her letter came for Juliet, I was excited reading through it as if it had arrived for me.
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World War II:
The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society is an overall enjoyable book that balances the realities many Europeans faced throughout the Second World War. The authors, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, wonderfully balance the intolerable acts of Hitler and his followers with community, romance, and more uplifting tales. While reading, I appreciated the format of the story as it was easier to read about WWII realities. While I still found myself sad that this was at some point a person’s reality—perhaps with a different name and background—I did appreciate the detail and reality of including these “icky” or “hush-hush” moments. While I pray we as a society never endure or face anything like World War II again, I did take comfort in being able to read the stories of the brave men, women, and children who fought—for themselves, their loved ones, and strangers. It was a beauty to watch the words unfold a story of something I will never go through and could never imagine. The darkness that loomed over the world during that period of time was captured and placed within some of the pages of The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, all while illuminating the power of love: through friendship, acts of kindness, compassion, community, and romance. Note, if you have an exceptionally weak stomach or are triggered easily by pain or traumatic events, please refrain from reading this novel or use your best judgment with reading those bits. While they are not in great detail like other books on this time period, there are still heart-wrenching stories told.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society and will be re-reading it many more times. What struck me most was the parallels of the story and how the book came to be. As you’ll note, the novel has two authors. The idea of the story came to Mary when she was researching another book. The afterward goes into more detail…I’ll save the details for you to read in her words. But, after finding a place for this beloved body of work, Mary became too ill to apply the changes and make edits. Her niece, Annie, had stepped in to fulfill her aunt’s dying wish and see to it that this story would weave together the tales of those who endured a horrible time yet found light within the smiles of each other. I can’t help but note how Mary resembles the character Elizabeth by the way Annie speaks of her. As you read The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to!
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