Friday, July 29, 2011

Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I started this book, I had no idea it was a lighthearted, humorous book. The blurb made it sound depressing and heavy, but I was ready to slog through, nonetheless.

What I got, instead, was an epistolary novel (meaning, told through writings and letters) about people surviving with their senses of humor intact thanks to the bonding power of books. It would be a poor writer who could make that anything but an enjoyable read, and neither Shaffer nor Barrows failed in their task.

The story takes place in post-WWII Great Britain, and follows the movements of the writer Juliet Ashton. She's written a series of humorous essays about living in wartime, and they've just been published into a book. While she's hunting for the subject of her next publication, she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, who has happened to get a copy of a book that used to belong to her. He lives in the only British territory to have been occupied by the Germans during WWII, and she rightly sniffs out a story there. But it's the people she's really interested in, and she and the reader get to know them all better through the course of their correspondence.

It's the characters who hold this book together; the plot is actually rather light, for the subject matter. There are important goings-on, and various atrocities of the war are brought up, somehow without breaking the overall light and cheerful tone of the book. I often found myself laughing at a passage, tearing up at the next, then laughing again. That rests entirely on the shoulders of the various narrative voices employed in the letters. In the audio edition, they're all read by different narrators, but the language still sounds distinct for each character.

Don't let the subject matter intimidate you. If you love reading and you like stories about the endurance of the human spirit (without having to endure everything with them), then you'll enjoy this book. I was rather surprised, coming up on the end, that I was almost finished with it, and then I was disappointed that I couldn't spend more time with the characters. But that's what rereads are for.

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