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

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2009) by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

This novel, written as a series of letters, begins with a young columnist writing a novel just after the Second World War. A young man from the Channel island of Guernsey writes to her asking for reading recommendations and a friendship is born. Their correspondence continues for months, based on a profound love of reading and, in many ways, a joyful relief to find human connection after the years of fearful wartime disconnection. This correspondence is soon joined by others in the island’s literature club and the writer soon visits Guernsey where she learns what life was like for the islanders during the harsh war years. Their letters are suffused with tongue-in-cheek English humour, making it much easier to read than other novels of letters which can often be long-winded and one-sided. The sense of post-war relief in the character’s correspondence is such that, although there are anecdotes of the atrocities suffered by the islanders during the war it does not overshadow their warmth, kinship, and determination to sympathise with the German soldiers who occupied Guernsey, as many of them were often forced into the conflict as much as the islanders. This is epitomised when one of the characters falls in love with a German soldier of strong compassion and character and their subsequent love child becomes a symbol of post-war healing. There is more than a little romance in the story, indeed in many ways it could be called a romance novel;t the setting and characterisation are integral and immaculate, the romance carefully crafted and heart-flutteringly exciting, often reminiscent of Jane Austen’s novels in their gentleness, beauty, and social politics.

The story of how this novel came into being also adds to its grand appeal among readers. The two authors listed, Mary-Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, are aunt and niece respectively. Shaffer was a librarian and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is her first and only work. Sadly she passed away before seeing it published and the final editing process was undertaken by her niece, Barrows. Thus, this book’s appeal lies not only in its flawless structure and content, its sense of relief, purpose, and joy, but also in its origin and the people who brought it into being.

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