Saturday, August 2, 2008

I Want to Go to Guernsey

Last month, I won an Advance Reading Copy of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrow from LibraryThing. It was exciting to win an ARC, but then I began to worry. I'd heard such great things about it from others who'd already read it that I feared it would not live up to my expectations. On top of that, it turned out to be written entirely as a series of letters & journal entries (which is not one of my favorite forms of fiction). Even the title started to annoy me ~ what the heck does potato peel pie have to do with anything? And what is a potato peel pie anyway? ~ so I put the book aside and continued to read the other four books I had going.

Before long, my conscience began to bother me. I had asked for the book, after all, and receiving an ARC is a privilege that carries with it duties, two of which are to read the darn thing and write a review. So, seeing as the novel was relatively short (274 pages in the ARC version) and the review need be only 25 words long, I picked it up one night when I couldn't seem to get comfortable in bed, figuring it would at worst put me to sleep.

Oh! I couldn't put it down! From the first page, it hooked me. Listen to the first paragraph of the first letter:

"Susan Scott is a wonder. We sold over forty copies of the book, which was very pleasant, but much more thrilling from my standpoint was the food. Susan managed to procure ration coupons for icing sugar and real eggs for the meringue. If all her literary luncheons are going to achieve these heights, I won't mind touring about the country. Do you suppose that a lavish bonus could spur her on to butter? Let's try it - you may deduct the money from my royalties."
(P. 1, ARC version.)

Three hours later (!), I made myself stop reading and turn out the light, but I picked it up again the next evening as soon as I got home from work and finished it before I went to sleep that night.

The novel is set in post-WWII London and on Guernsey, an island in the English Channel. Surprisingly (to me, anyway), Guernsey, which is part of Great Britain, was occupied by the Nazis during much of WWII, and there was apparently nothing the Allies could do about it. Beneath the deceptively easy-breezy writing style of the letter-writers, the main one of whom is the delightfully witty, spirited yet vulnerable author Juliet Ashton, the effects of the war (lack of such "luxuries" as eggs, sugar and butter, the bombings of London) and of the occupation and its effects on the residents and the island come to hideous life. What also comes to life is the way the hardships brought out the best (and sometimes the worst) in the islanders, and, most charming to me, the way books became a way to endure and even to transcend their fears and pain.

There were moments where I cried, moments when I laughed, but mostly I was charmed ~ by the people who live on Guernsey, Juliet and her friends from London, and even the deplorable Adelaide Addison and Juliet's suitor, all of whom I feel as if I know and wish I could spend more time with ~ and read the novel as if under an enchantment. Days later, I still find myself smiling at a remembered bit of the novel, or heartsore to think of the pain and suffering so many innocent people went through under the Nazis. It's that kind of novel ~ and that, in my book, is the very best!


Anonymous said...

I cant wait to read this book, I have only heard great things about it and your review only confirms it! Great review!

Storeetllr said...

Thanks so much for your kind comment about my review, bookroomreviews! The book really is a good read.

Looking forward to the Book Carnival in Sept.!

Irishteacup said...

Thanks for the great review -- I look forward to "go(ing) to Guernsey." When I saw the book title -- well, you expressed everything that I thought in your first paragraph of your review. This is fun!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for visiting my blog and entering the giveaway!

*Guernsey* (etc. ... will I ever be able to remember the entire title?!) is on my must-read list!

I enjoyed reading your profile - I used to tutor adult readers, too; with Literacy Volunteers of America, and at the Harvard Reading Lab (goes by a more pc name now)

Storeetllr said...

Thanks, Irish ~ Glad you enjoyed the blog. Hope you enjoy the book!

Hi, She ~ I think you'll really enjoy the book when you get around to reading it.

Tutoring is hard work sometimes, but I'm finding it quite rewarding (and humbling) to work with adults who are determined to learn to read. Hope you'll come back and visit again.