Saturday, September 8, 2018

"The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

I first bought and read -- and loved -- "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows when it was published about 10 years ago. I was thrilled when I heard a movie version was in the works (albeit slightly less so when I found out it would not be released on the big screen -- in North America, anyway -- but instead go straight to Netflix).

I rarely re-read books these days -- far too many unread books sitting on my shelves! -- but it had been a while, and some of the details were a bit hazy, so I decided I should pick it up again & read it before watching the movie, which started airing on Netflix in mid-August.

The book was just as delightful -- and moving -- as I remembered. It's the story of Juliet Ashton, a writer in post-WWII London, who strikes up a correspondence with a pig farmer named Dawsey Adams from the island of Guernsey, who has picked up one of her books second-hand.  Guernsey and the Channel Islands were occupied by the Nazis during the war, and Dawsey and his neighbours form the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society as a diversion -- and as an alibi. The story of Guernsey, the society and its members and how they endured the war years is told through letters to & from Juliet and the members as well as her publisher and other friends.

I love books & reading (the story of how Juliet broke off her engagement (in the letter From Juliet to Sidney, 28th January 1946) had me laughing out loud)... I love letters (both writing & reading -- although sadly, I seem to do little of either these days...)... and I love stories about how ordinary people survived the war years -- so needless to say, I adored this book & gave it four stars on Goodreads. :)  I am planning to watch the movie soon, & will let you know what I think of it when I do!

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When I took this book off my shelf to re-read, it had two passages marked with post-it notes. The first describes Juliet's emotions as she prepares to land in Guernsey and meet her penpals for the first time. "Hiding behind paper" and "better at writing than living" -- cough, cough.... hmmm....
As the mail boat lurched into the harbour, I saw St. Peter Port rising up from the sea on terraces, with a church on the top like a cake decoration, and I realize that my heart was galloping. As much as I tried to persuade myself it was the thrill of the scenery, I knew better. All those people I've come to know and even love a little, waiting to see -- me. And I, without any paper to hide behind. Sidney, in these past two or three years, I have become better at writing than living -- and think what you do to my writing. On the page, I'm perfectly charming, but that's just a trick I learned. It has nothing to do with me. At least, that's what I was thinking as the mail boat came toward the pier. I had a cowardly impulse to throw my red cape overboard and pretend I was someone else. (From Juliet to Sidney, 22nd May, 1946) 
The second passage I had marked immediately reminded me of how very few people around us want to hear our stories as survivors of pregnancy/infant loss &/or infertility -- and the importance of peer support:
I have been reading an article by a woman named Giselle Pelletier, a political prisoner held at Ravensbruck for five years. She writes about how difficult it is for you to get on with your life as a camp survivor. No one in France -- not friends, not family -- wants to know anything about your life in the camps, and they think that the sooner you put it out of your mind -- and out of their hearing -- the happier you'll be.
According to Miss Pelletier, it is not that you want to belabour anyone with details, but it did happen to you and you cannot pretend it didn't. "Let's put everything behind us" seems to be France's cry. "Everything -- the war, the Vichy, the Milice, Drancy, the Jews -- it's all over now. After all, everyone suffered, not just you." In the face of this institutional amnesia, she writes, the only help is talking with fellow survivors. They know what life in the camps was. You speak, and they can speak back. They talk, they rail, they cry, they tell one story after another -- some tragic, some absurd. Sometimes they can even laugh together. The relief is enormous, she says. (From Juliet to Sophie, 29th August, 1946) 
Since that first read, I've added a few more post-it note markers:
That's what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It's geometrically progressive—all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment. (From Juliet to Dawsey, 15th January 1946) 
So true!

One more:
When my son, Ian, died at El Alamein-- side by side with Eli's father, John -- visitors offering their condolences, thinking to comfort me, said, "Life goes on." What nonsense, I thought, of course it doesn't. It's death that goes on; Ian is dead now and will be dead tomorrow and next year and forever. There's no end to that. But perhaps there will be an end to the sorrow of it. Sorrow had rushed over the world like the waters of the Deluge, and it will take time to recede. But already, there are small islands of -- hope? Happiness? Something like them, at any rate. (From Amelia to Juliet, 10th April 1946) 
This was book #18 that I've read so far in 2018, bringing me to 75% of my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 2 books ahead of schedule to meet my goal!  :)


  1. Dear Loribeth, I read this book too and liked it very much! Thanks for the quotes you picked out which remind me why :)

  2. I loved this book to, and need to watch the movie on Netflix! I don't remember those quotes, but they are perfect. Especially the one about Life Goes On.

  3. I loved this book to, and need to watch the movie on Netflix! I don't remember those quotes, but they are perfect. Especially the one about Life Goes On.