Book Review

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A book that took years in the making, that began with a certain Mary Ann Shaffer’s innocent, child-like desire to write a book ‘that someone would like enough to publish.’

Publishers didn’t like it. They LOVED it.

‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ was published in several languages all over the world, staying eleven weeks at number one on the New York Times bestseller list, before being made into a movie.

Now after reading it, I don’t find its stupendous success a surprise at all.

Its intriguing title aside, it is a DELIGHT for a reader, as well as a writer.

First off, this historical fiction novel is written in an epistolary form. That is, the entire novel is in a series of letters or messages. It takes a few pages to get used to reading this style, but it’s much like shifting from a manual to an automatic gear transmission car; one smoothly and quickly settles into it.

Thanks to this writing form, the entire story flows like a conversation from the heart and mind of each character. This reveals that character’s own details (nature, past and present etc), as well as what he/she is describing in the letter to the recipient. Consequently, the narrator completely disappears from the narrative, with her voice and all. What a concept!

And the very last letter, the way Mary Ann Shaffer has concluded the story, is like milk and cookies—it makes you feel all warm and pleasant inside.

The Plot.

It starts with something as unbelievably trivial as an illegal dinner party during the German Occupation of Guernsey Island during World War 2.

But by the time you are half-way into the book, you realize that the author has quietly, magically introduced and developed several intriguing elements and sub-plots from that single trivial incident: love affairs, relationships, stories from the German occupation, literature and love for reading and even children’s games! And as the story unravels, you wonder at how seamlessly she has woven them together.

The Characters.

I am a happily married man for the past twenty-five years. But I confess I fell head over heels in love with Juliet Ashton. And I suppose every man (and I dare say, every woman) who reads the book will succumb to her lovely, sunny, girl-next-door nature as well.

And the brave Elizabeth McKenna, who never once makes a personal appearance in the entire novel, but around whom the Guernsey Island saga revolves.

The other characters are not extraordinary; you would have read about similar people in other stories. But the way the author integrates them, creates an adorable family and lures the reader into becoming a PART of that family, speaks of her writing excellence. At the end, you have to ruefully remind yourself that that family is non-existent.

A few other things worth mentioning:

The humour was a very welcome element for me, as it is rare in literary fiction. In fact, at places, it was hilariously Pickwickian or Wodehousean and had me laughing out loud!

The stories of the German occupation are moving and poignant, but not gut-wrenchingly depressing. In fact, they all end with the human spirit being able to come to terms with, and overcoming the ordeals.

I loved the way the author has spared a thought for the ANIMALS and pets, who also suffered during the war. A rarity in most such novels.

Considering the location and period (mid-1940s) the behaviour, expressions, phrases etc. are typically British, used at that time. I revelled in them; they brought back fond memories of the Enid Blyton books I read as a child.

‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ is the perfect definition of a labour of love. Which is why, perhaps, it fills the reader with love and joy. 

Rest assured, after finishing it, you will close the book with a happy sigh. I know I did.