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Monday, March 30, 2009

THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY--How's that for a title?


My book of the year is Mary Ann Shaffer's The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. This novel is literature; it has all the hallmarks of a great book in its use of literary technique. One of the most charming elements is its form. It is epistolary--a series of letters. Through the letters the reader is invited to enter a private world and see the personal thoughts of the characters. Guernsey's great plot takes the reader on an emotional ride as each new event is uncovered.

The story begins on Jan.8, 1946 immediately following the end of World War II when people in England are trying to find their centers after years of war, bombings, and deprivation. That's true in busy London where our main character lived through the bombing and destruction. It's also true on the quiet Channel Island where the people, no longer captives of the Nazi occupiers, are trying to find--or remember--what life is like on a small island isolated from the mainland's hectic life. It's not easy re-defining the meaning of "normal." The search for an answer suggests a look at life's values.

One of the strongest aspects of the novel is the diversity of character. As in any society, the range of personalities, values, and reactions to events is diverse. How people react to war, occupation, and a shrinking of basic living supplies can reveal traits that in a better world may remain hidden. Through the letters, we are treated to various reactions to the lack of food, fuel, housing, and freedom. Through the people on Guernsey and the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, we gain familiarity and insight. So does our main character, Londoner Juliet Ashton.

Juliet Ashton is a young, weary London writer whose home, belongings, and sense of normalcy have been bombed into oblivion. Trying to write a book as a transition from wartime columnist attempting to bring some humor into a humorless situation to a recognized serious author rebuilding a shattered emotional life and adjusting to a blitzkrieg-free post war environment, Juliet begins to find some sense to the world through a casual correspondence with a Guernsey Island inhabitant, Dawsey Adams.

Juliet's relationship widens through letters to other members of Guernsey's Literary and Potato Pie Society, people also desperate for news of the world after years of isolated Nazi occupation. Their letters reveal the pains and joys of life lived under dire circumstances. The letters reflect their resilience, and this novel becomes praise for the human spirit.

But don't think this is a serious, no-nonsense book. It's not! There is plenty of lol funny stuff going on, and there's burgeoning affection and confliction as well. The tone is warm, friendly, and humorous. Juliet is aggressively courted by super-wealthy, wheeler-dealer, suave Markham Reynolds who inundates her with flowers and wines, and who dines her in a way that her war-rationed mentality finds gloriously stimulating. He introduces her into international society. The rush and the romance is very tempting for a girl who still delights over real eggs and real sugar for icing!

The key is--This book is delightful, real, vivid, exciting, and, to my absolute pleasure, a piece of real literature! The characters will become your friends, and you will yearn to visit the Channel Islands (although the inhabitants will hardly enjoy becoming a tourist spot). Treat yourself to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.


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