Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer

With a superb title like that how could you possibly not want to read this book? The reviews through the blogosphere had been fantastic however with a huge TBR pile I wasn’t sure whether I should take a risk on it or not. Well after receiving a copy in the post recently it went almost straight to the top of my TBR and having just put it down I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The novel is set in 1946 and the author Juliet Ashton receives a letter from Dawsey Adams a Guernsey farmer. He has found her previous address in an old copy of Charles Lamb and has written to her to find out if she knows any more on the author and if she can recommend anymore reads for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. Juliet is naturally, as you would be, intrigued by the society and the people of Guernsey who have joined it and how it was formed. This sees the beginning of letters between the members of the society and Juliet. It also sees letters between her and her publisher, possible wooer and best friend as she embarks on a journey of discover of Guernsey after the occupation of the war. What exactly is the society; well you should read it to find out!

Juliet is a fantastic lead character. Having spent the war writing ‘Izzy Bickerstaff Goes to War’ under the pseudonym she now wants to start writing something new and more importantly as herself. She is a real sparky and unconventional character for her time. She has previously dumped a former fiancĂ© because when she came upstairs he had packed all her books away into the basement and filled her shelves with his trophies. She isn’t afraid of wicked journalists throwing a kettle at ones head ‘though it was empty and didn’t do any damage’.

The characters of the society almost, almost steal the show with their own tales, some funny and some incredibly moving especially the story of Elizabeth who was sent to prison leaving her daughter behind who the rest of the society look after. Of course you are taken a long and educated in it all through Juliet’s journey, I learnt so much about Guernsey and the occupation I had no idea about. I frankly wanted to pack my bags and head of there myself to take in the atmosphere and history further; you can see why Mary Ann Shaffer fell in love with the area on a visit and wanted to write about it.

Sadly Mary Ann Shaffer died before she could see her books get published although she knew it was going to be published. It’s a real shame as her voice was wonderful, managing to mix tales of deadly wit (I was reminded of Nancy Mitford when reading some of the book) with some harrowing tales and takes you along the emotions of everyone involved. Sometimes I had to remind myself it was fiction.

This is undoubtedly one of my favourite books of the year. I was worried a book of letters would become complicated especially with the amount of characters that this book contains but every voice is unique and I whizzed through the letters, I couldn’t wait to hear the latest from all the characters. Why has letter writing gone out of fashion it’s such a shame I think it needs to come back, maybe I should start a letter writing group for book lovers?

2 comments:

Sarah said...

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books of all time as well. Did you know that Dill's character is actually based on Truman Capote? Lee and Capote were neighbors and friends growing up. There is actually a theory that Capote wrote TKaM but used Lee's name. I don't buy into that theory because I think their writing styles are really different from each other. Whoever wrote it, it's an amazing book.
Also, horror of horrors I went to check out "Rebecca" at the library and it had already been checked out! I picked up a book of Daphne Du Maurier's short stories instead and I can't put it down. She's such a good writer!

Simon said...

Ahhh Sarah you will have the Du Maurier bug after that I promise you, which collection? I read The Rendezvouus earlier in the year and it was superb. I am going to read one of the other cult books of hers 'My Cousin Rachel' in 2009 am determined.

Fantastic story about Harper Lee and Truman Capote, I have never heard that before! Simon