Thursday, January 8, 2009

"The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (audio)



First "Suite Francaise", then "Remembering Blue", and now this. How can I become so entranced, this early in 2009, by three books in a row? (C.B. James, I think your karma has rubbed off on me!) I'm starting to feel easy. You know, I have a dear friend who years ago read "A Year in Provence" by Peter Mayle. He was so inspired by the charm and whimsy of the French countryside in this novel that he moved to France for a year. I thought of him while reading (actually listening) this book. Now I want to move to Guernsey.

We are in London in the year 1946. The war just over, the world is struggling to find its footing again. Juliet Ashton is a young woman who has just hit it big with a recently published book, and she is looking for a new muse for her next project. Serendipitously, she received a letter from a Mr. Dawsey Adams, a native of Guernsey, one of England's channel islands. Mr. Adams has come to possess a used book written by Charles Lamb, which he is quite taken with, and Juliet's name and address is written on the inside of the front cover. How did it find its way from London to Guernsey? Since there are no bookstores in operation currently in Guernsey, could Juliet give him the name and address of one in London where he could order more books by this author? Juliet and Dawsey begin corresponding, finding much in common, and a wonderful tale unfolds.

Juliet learns of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, which was created as an off-the-cuff alibi to prevent a group of curfew-breaking Guernsians from being arrested and imprisoned by the Nazis. In order to uphold the charade, they all select books to read and report on at their next "meeting". With the exception of a couple of ladies, this group never would have picked up a book in their lives. This group of loose acquaintenances soon form a tight bond, originating from a newfound love of the classics, and enforced by the day-to-day survival of the Nazi occupation. Juliet begins to correspond with the entire cast of characters, and soon falls in love with their stories, their spirit and their quirks. She leaves London to visit her new friends. It seems she has found her muse.

Uniquely, the story is told as a series of letters between Juliet, her best friend Sophie, Juliet's publisher (and Sophie's brother), Juliet's new boyfriend, the various members of the Guernsey Society, and a few other colorful folks. It provides the points of view from all sides, and although not allowing too much in-depth character study, it makes for a very fun, fast-paced read. I had more than one laugh-out-loud moment listening to the antics of the islanders. And while most of the dialogue is light, it also travels down the dark path of suffering and war-time atrocities that sobered me up pretty quickly.

I must make a special comment about listening to this on audio tape. If you read my recent review of "Testimony" by Anita Shreve, I was blown away by the fact that a whole cast of narrators were used. Well, Guernsey employs the same strategy. It was absolutely delightful listening to the accents and inflections of the narrators, which brought the whole lot of characters to life. I can't imagine reading the book in hard copy!

This is a touching, heartwarming tale that I will recommend to everyone (and when I say the name they will look at me like I have three heads). I dare anyone to not love it.

20 comments:

farmlanebooks said...

Your reading tastes do seem to be very similar to mine! I'm going to follow your blog too! This book is on my wishlist, but I haven't got a copy of it yet. I should read it some time in 2009 though.

Melissa said...

I loved this audio too! I finished it on New Years Day and haven't started another one because I'm sure not much else can measure up.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Jackie - this book will completely charm you. And you are on the other side of the pond...you may even want to vacation in Guernsey! I can't remember when I laughed out loud that much listening to a book.

Melissa - I know what you mean. However, I did go directly from Guernsey to my Outlander series. Not a bad one-two punch!

Carrie K. said...

I loved, loved, loved this book, too! Great review. :)

Melody said...

Thanks for visiting my blog! :)
That's a great review on this book, Sandy! I've heard a lot of bookbloggers mentioning this book so I'll have to check it out.

mattviews said...

I cannot agree with you more about the case of characters in this audio. I listened to it during my morning commute after I read the novel, only to realize that the audio affords more emotional nuances to the story. It's been a fun ride! :)

Do the characters meet your expectations as they were in the book?

Literary Feline said...

If I didn't already have my paper copy, you might have convinced me to give this one a try on audio. :-) Great review, Sandy!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Melody - thank you! I promise you won't be disappointed with this book!

Matt - I didn't read the book, so I only have the audio to go on. As far as my expectations, I really had none. I had read really wonderful things about the book, but the title was so off-beat that I was a bit doubting. In that sense, all expectations were highly exceeded!

Book Fiend said...

Thanks for the review! I can't wait to read this book!

Michele at Reader's Respite said...

Ahhhh, another convert! Wasn't this book just fantastic? I fell in love with it. I wanted to buy copies for everyone I know, LOL.

But it struck me that if you loved Suite Francaise as much, I should be reading that one next.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Michele - that is exactly right...I want everyone I know to read this book, because if they don't, their life just won't be quite as rich! Suite Francaise isn't quite the feel-good read, but is still very impactful.

Beth F said...

Guernsey was one of my top listens for 2008. It really was an awesome production, and I think this is a case in which the audio may have improved the book.

I have Suite Francaise on my my MP3 player, I'll have to get to it soon. Remembering Blue is new to me. And you know how I feel about Mayle.

I lived in Guernsey in 1984 when I was doing my graduate research. I have no clue what it's like now, but I fell in love with Guernsey and the Channel Islands in general. The locations in the book were thus very real to me. All my photos are on slides; one of these days I'll have to scan them and post some on my blog. Guernsey in 1984 was not very modern; I hope it kept its special charm.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Beth, you are absolutely right about the audio. It takes a fabulous book and just blows it out of the water (or the channel, if you will!). I would LOVE to see pictures of your Guernsey back in '84. I have pictures in my mind, of course, but it isn't the same. You have a real eye for photographic beauty, so I'm sure your pictures would surpass my imagination!

Anna said...

Hi there! I'm popping over from Literary Feline's blog, having seen you in the comments.

Great review! This one is in my TBR pile and I plan to read it for the WWII challenge at War Through the Generations.

Would it be okay to post a link to your review on the WWII book reviews page?

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Sandy Nawrot said...

Anna! Thanks for visiting! I loved your interview on Wendy's blog, and will look forward to following your blog because of her.

You know, I think I need to join this War Through the Ages Reading Challenge. I read so much war-related literature, I should put it to good use!! Of course, I would love it if you would link my review with your challenge site. Thank you so much for offering!!!

mattviews said...

I still couldn't say the title right after I finished the book! :)

Sandy Nawrot said...

Matt, I'm glad I'm not the only one. I was starting to feel dense!!!

Anna said...

I've created a post for the review here on War Through the Generations and I added a link to the book reviews page there as well. Thanks!

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Marg said...

This was one of my favourite reads from last year too. You do make the audio sound as though it should be something I keep an eye out for in future though.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Hi Marg! Thank you for stopping by! Yes, the audio version definitely puts a spin on the book, as the narrators add personality to the words that my imagination may not have done. It is very easy to listen to, and if you know the premise of the book (which I did not) then it would make it even easier!