“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Dana Thompson

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Photo courtesy of Random House Publishing, Inc.

When a book is warmly recommended to you by three or more of your friends, you would be unwise to not read it. Unwise or spiteful. I say spiteful because I am a member of the Don’t Read It If It’s On The New York Times Bestseller List Club and I completely understand being a book hipster. It’s okay. Like financial success and manure, people are fine with it as long as you don’t rub it in their faces. Since “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” spent eleven weeks at the number-one spot on the Dreaded List of Evil, I was determined to stay quietly away, having recently had a run-in with a James Patterson novel that I was in no hurry to duplicate. However, numerous glowing reviews caused me to buy it for my sister, which is just a roundabout way of buying it for myself with the added bonus of being hailed as “so thoughtful,” “a great older sister,” etc., etc.

I let Annie finish it before spiriting it away and reading it in about three days (which is no amazing feat, I can tell you; I’ve seen jellyfish with thicker spines), and I have to say that I really enjoyed it.

Written entirely in letters, “Guernsey” allows the reader to feel pretty clever about deducing what is happening by means of the correspondence between writer Juliet Ashton, her publisher/friend Sidney and his sister, and numerous colorful characters from the British island of Guernsey. Juliet is looking for a subject for her latest novel, and she quickly finds inspiration in a book club developed to combat the oppression of the German Occupation of Guernsey during the second world war.

If this seems a little far-fetched (I know words are powerful, but a book club against the Third Reich . . . ?) it’s because it is. But as the novel goes on, it becomes clear that it’s not about the staunch bravery and intellectual intrepidity of a bunch of pig farmers––it’s about the circumstances under which a group of very different people came to care very deeply about one another (and only one of them is a pig farmer). Okay, yes, it is woefully predictable (when one of the male characters’ name is “Dawsey” and there are multiple references made to “Pride and Prejudice,” the fate of this character’s romantic life is kind of poorly concealed), but the message was sweet and I’m always interested in a book about World War II. For a very nice summer read, I would recommend it.

(On an unrelated note, I was shocked to discover that I had read about seven-eighths of the book thinking it was called “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society,” without the word “Pie.” I was absolutely blown away. It was like reading Herman Melville’s famous masterpiece thinking the whole time that it was called “Dick.” )

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