Review: "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Reported by Jack Wichita
Nine of us met at the Rivers Eatery to discuss The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and the book, recommended by Ron, was well received by the group. In general, folks liked the characters, thought the writing was clear and expressive, and the romantic story line was enjoyable and not too sappy, as some critics have complained. But the real payoff was the setting and period: the Island of Guernsey––one of the British Channel Islands located between England and France––immediately after WWII.
The Island of Guernsey was occupied by Germany (who knew?) throughout the war, and the most interesting segments of the book were the stories that the islanders told about the occupation. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (GLPPPS) in fact was a fictional book club cooked up by the islanders to avoid the occupying Germans’ rigid curfews.
Our group seemed to appreciate the genuinely nice characters in this read (as contrasted with the more complex and far less likable characters populating The Goldfinch). Plus, the facts of the German occupation in Guernsey were very interesting, as were some of the German characters––they were not one-dimensional cardboard cutout Nazis. But the hardships of occupation were real on both sides: insufficient food, loss of freedoms we take for granted, constant surveillance, and little opportunity for social stimulation for the islanders; and many of the same rigors faced the Germans. The foreign forced labor workers––Poles, Russians, Ukrainians––had it worse, literally being worked to death in many cases.
Some personal notes. Adrian’s father lived through the German occupation of the Netherlands during WWII. He was forced to repair German-occupied airfields damaged by the Allied bombing. Adrian told of one incident when his father was ill. The German soldiers came to the door and demanded at gunpoint that he go out to work. No excuses.
No one felt that the expository style of using letters among the characters was a problem. In fact a number of folks thought that it helped create distinct voices for the characters. And folks were generally fine with character development, though a few of us thought that so much niceness and so few flaws was unrealistic and a little, well, boring. An anomaly––how could mail move so fast in that day and age? Often it seemed that letters were sent and received overnight; not likely in that era.
Average scores for Readability and Interest (on a scale of 1 to 5) were 4.3 and 4.2, respectively.