The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Written by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows
“Soon to be a movie!”
Not normally words that catch my attention. First off movies from books always leave something to be desired. Then there is the fact that between family video games, sporting events, and ridiculous work schedules, my television isn’t really mine. Still, this announcement did something that I simply didn’t think possible. It received near universal approval from all of my online book forums. These are readers who can’t agree on whether an audiobook should count toward your reading goal for the year. They argue about whether classic books should be read at all. Alphabetizing (or not) can cause a war. Yet most everyone who has read this book stated with a mighty voice some version of “I can’t wait for this movie!” It got me curious.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a book about author Juliette Ashton. In 1946, while the pieces of war-torn London are being put back together, she has just released a best selling book and she is looking for inspiration for her next book when a letter from out nowhere finds her from a farmer on Guernsey asking for information about a book he now owns that once belonged to her. In passing, he mentions a connection between the author of the book and the founding of the island’s literary society, a saving grace for many during the years-long German occupation. The book follows Juliette’s growing fascination with the island, its inhabitants, and their stories, while she navigates her own post-war life.
Upon reading it, in nearly one sitting I might add, I could see the near-universal appeal of the book. The storytelling is unique in that it is not exposition driven. It is told as a series of correspondence; letters, cables, notes to call, even a diary entry, between the major characters. The story is built layer by layer as each new letter is read. I found it a brilliant way to enjoy the story, once I got used to it. It was a wonderful way to get to know the characters. Instead of making my own opinion or being told by the narrative what to think, each character was described through the eyes of another person, sometimes several people with conflicting views, and that made all these people very relatable. I would have thought the writing style to be limiting, but the story, past and present unfolded in a compelling way, giving the reader adventure, suspense, intrigue and of course, romance.
The unifying factor for readers, I believe, is Juliette and The Literary Society. Reading about them and their love for books I was able to see not only myself but so many of my reader friends and frenemies. Juliette is a talented writer, no doubt, but reading is obviously her first love. I totally sympathized at the central nature of the bookshelf in her London flat. The Society members are a varied lot. Some had never met a book they didn’t like, others learned to love books for the small freedoms their book club gave them during the occupation. Others were dragged into or politely turned out of the group kicking and screaming for reasons having nothing to do with reading. Regardless of their impetus for being there, they were all able to find something in a book, especially ones they had written themselves, that gave them solace and for those of us who read for sake of reading it is a refreshing thing to know that an author understands us so well as a group.
I can say that I am looking forward to the movie when it comes my way in August. I am most certainly glad I read the book.
Mary Ann Schaffer
“In 1996, Annie received her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Mills College and had a baby, a confluence of events that persuaded her to leave editorial work and move into writing. She wrote several non-fiction books on topics ranging from fortune-telling to opera before turning her attention to children’s books. In 2006, the first book in her children’s series, Ivy + Bean was published. This title, an ALA Notable Book for 2007, was followed by nine others. The Ivy + Bean series appears with some regularity on the New York Times best-seller list and a number of other national best-seller lists. The Ivy + Bean books have been translated into fourteen languages; in 2013 Ivy + Bean: The Musical premiered in the San Francisco Bay Area. A novel for older children, The Magic Half, was published by BloomsburyUSA in 2008. Its sequel, Magic in the Mix, came out in 2014.
In addition to her children’s books, Annie is the co-author, with her aunt Mary Ann Shaffer, of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which was published by The Dial Press in 2008. A New York Times best-seller, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society has been published in thirty-seven countries and thirty-two languages.” (http://anniebarrows.com/about/)