Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, written in the epistolary format, is set in post WWII England. The year is 1946, and England is still recovering from the war. Letters are exchanged between the writer Juliet Ashton and her circle of English friends in London and Scotland. Later, her circle is expanded to include inhabitants of the small island of Guernsey on the English Channel, an island occupied by the Nazis for five years.
Through their correspondence, Juliet learns about the hardships the islanders experienced while living under Nazi occupation. She also learns about the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, hurriedly formed to explain the violation of a curfew and consisting of a motley crew of islanders. Enchanted by everything she reads about Guernsey, she visits the island and promptly falls in love with its inhabitants and its natural environment. Rejecting her wealthy American suitor, Juliet decides to take up permanent residence on the island, adopt a young orphaned girl, and marry a quiet, solid, salt-of-the earth pig farmer.
On the plus side, the letters were witty, the characters colorful. The description of England during the war and its aftermath is detailed and vivid. Some of the stories are heart wrenching, particularly the evacuation of children to live with complete strangers in the countryside while London and other major cities experience heavy bombing. Meanwhile, the people of Guernsey, cut off from the mainland, had to experience their own set of hardships under Nazi occupation.
On the minus side, while I enjoyed the dry, tongue-in-cheek humor of the exchanges, the voices in the letters were virtually identical. It’s as if the writers all shared a common style of writing and exhibited the same sense of humor with little to distinguish one from the other. Also the ending was very predictable. The Guernsey community embraces Juliet as one of their own, establishing a mutual admiration society. It becomes apparent early on that she falls in love with the steady, quiet pig-farmer and he with her. So it was only a question of time before the two of them got together and tied the knot with a ‘happily ever after’ conclusion to the book.
If you can get past the clichés, past the formulaic spunky female rejecting the rich American suitor in favor the solid country bumpkin with a heart of gold, and past the predictable ending, you will find this to be a quick and easy read, charming in its own limited way.