It’s 1946 and the Second World War is finally over. For most everyone, it means digging what’s left of ordinary life out of the rubble and rebuilding. For writer Juliet Ashton, it means that after one last interminable tour, she can retire her persona as comedic quasi-journalist Izzy Bickerstaff and get serious. For the Channel Island of Guernsey, it means that the Germans are gone, the missing are returning, and it’s time to look back to find peace instead of looking forward to find some semblance of hope.
Juliet’s inbox has become fairly typical, full of teatime anecdotes and a potential suitor, but that changes when a man named Dawsey Adams writes her from Guernsey about a book she once owned. In his letter, Dawsey mentions a literary society on Guernsey that owes its existence to a contraband roast pig during the Occupation. Juliet sends Dawsey his answer with a request to know more. Soon, Juliet (now juggling romance, writer’s block, and all the joys and trials of publishing) is caught up in a string of correspondence with taciturn Dawsey and his fellow society members, exchanging war stories that range from tragic to hilarious. There’s idiosyncratic Isola, neighborhood witch; fisherman and grandfather Eben, finally reunited with his family; tough, elegant ringleader Amelia; inventive Will, responsible for the potato peel pie; and valet turned imposter nobleman John Booker. Together, they’re raising a little girl named Kit McKenna, bound by the memory of her mother, who founded the Society and who has yet to return from a far away concentration camp…
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, written in a series of letters, explores life in the thick and in the aftermath of the Second World War with poise, wit, and a profound love of books. With misadventures, miscommunication, and— yes!— mystery, it tells the story of a community brought together by the most trying of circumstances. The writing can be a little pretentious, but only a little, and only very occasionally. For the most part, it pulls off its vintage, poetic feel to perfection, even succeeding in making its heroine perfectly charming when in other circumstances she may have fallen flat. It’s important that the plot itself isn’t the main focus of the book; it’s about the characters and the memories they share. I recommend the novel to readers of any age who love I Capture the Castle, Anne of Green Gables, or simply well-told stories about World War II. If you smile at a rocky ocean view or try the keys of any typewriter you see, consider reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society at your earliest convenience.
Book Review by Ilse Eskelsen