The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of th...

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Title:The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Author:Mary Ann Shaffer
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Edition Language:English

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Reviews

  • Linda Sexauer

    Several years ago, I worked at an art gallery here in Anchorage. Though I loved the art, I wasn’t much good at selling it. More often than not, I just chatted up the customers, who were from all over the world.

    One night, four elderly people wandered in. They told me they were from a tiny island off the coast of southern England called “Guernsey”. I’d never heard of it, so they proudly explained it was the only part of British soil that had been occupied by the Nazis during World War II. The isla

    Several years ago, I worked at an art gallery here in Anchorage. Though I loved the art, I wasn’t much good at selling it. More often than not, I just chatted up the customers, who were from all over the world.

    One night, four elderly people wandered in. They told me they were from a tiny island off the coast of southern England called “Guernsey”. I’d never heard of it, so they proudly explained it was the only part of British soil that had been occupied by the Nazis during World War II. The island was occupied for a long five years; an experience to which they had all been witnesses. At that moment, Guernsey was marked in my mind.

    Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrow’s new book, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” is an opportunity to travel back in time to 1946 Guernsey.

    Beginning early 1946 in London, Juliet Ashton, a British writer, and former war journalist, is emerging from the ashes of the war to rebuild her life and her identity. She has lost her home and all her possessions, most regrettably her book collection. Out of the blue, she responds to correspondence started by a resident of Guernsey, who has managed to obtain a second-hand book once owned by Juliet, in which she had long ago written her name and address. Through this initial contact, Juliet meets an entire community, and the course of her life is redirected.

    Easily reminiscent of Helene Hanff’s epistolary classic, “84 Charing Cross Road”, the novel is written in the epistolary style. Shaffer and Barrow skillfully use this medium to successfully establish their characters and a solid storyline.

    Charming, funny, sweet, and thoughtful, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” is a story that women might find more appealing than men. Yet, it is unflinching in its wartime recollections. The deprivations and devastation of the time are imaginatively and convincingly conveyed.

    At its core, this is a book about the love of reading, and the magic of books.

    I highly, highly recommend “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”.

  • Beth F.

    Gush, gush, gush, gush, gush, gush, gush!!! GUSH!!!!! So yes, clearly I loved this book.

    I think the only person I wouldn’t recommend this book to is one of those people who only read meaty tomes that might give regular people a brain embolism while they’re trying to make sense of the 17 different layers of subconscious meaning. I’d also hesitate from recommending this book to most men. However, if you have the ability to find joy and delight in the simple pleasures of a feel-good book, you too m

    Gush, gush, gush, gush, gush, gush, gush!!! GUSH!!!!! So yes, clearly I loved this book.

    I think the only person I wouldn’t recommend this book to is one of those people who only read meaty tomes that might give regular people a brain embolism while they’re trying to make sense of the 17 different layers of subconscious meaning. I’d also hesitate from recommending this book to most men. However, if you have the ability to find joy and delight in the simple pleasures of a feel-good book, you too might fall in love with this story.

    The book is written entirely in an epistolary format, consisting of letters back and forth between Juliet Ashton, a young author in 1946 London and several of her contacts and friends. It is just after WWII and people are trying to reclaim their lives and figure out if and how to move on from the tragedy of the war.

    Juliet receives an unsolicited letter from a man who lives on the island of Guernsey, one of the small islands situated in the English Channel between France and England (known for having loose regulations and financial secrecy in the modern world thereby making it attractive to fraudsters, money launderers and criminals, but that has nothing to do with this story and why it is enjoyable, I just couldn’t help myself from mentioning it). But anyway, Dawsey Adams of Guernsey acquires a used book that had originally been owned by Juliet. She had penned her name and address inside the cover and Dawsey decided to write her a letter to share how much he’d enjoyed her secondhand book and how reading books had helped several Guernsey residents cope during the time of the German Occupation of their island. Before long, Juliet is corresponding regularly with Mr. Adams and several other Guernsey residents, all who had been a part of the Literary Society. She learns that the Society was initially formed as a front to explain a broken curfew but eventually became a rewarding opportunity to meet with friends and discuss a love of books. Eventually, Juliet travels to Guernsey to meet her island pen friends and it was hard for me to put the book down and get any work done!

    The letters back and forth between Juliet and her friends gave the book a personal touch and it felt like we were being given an inside look into these peoples’ lives. I subscribe to the belief that letter-writing is a lost art form and appreciate books that are heavy on the letters and found the format enjoyable and easy to approach. There is also a very sweet love story in between these pages that made me sigh with contentment when the book ended. It was a highly satisfying read and I think that most book lovers would also enjoy this story.

    Even though most of us don’t write letters anymore, I think we will identify and be attracted to the notion of maintaining a long-distance correspondence with someone and developing a friendship with someone we’ve never even met (hello? Anybody chat/email with friendly strangers on the internet?) Juliet becomes quite close to her Guernsey friends and there was one passage in particular when she is finally embarking on her trip to meet her pen friends that rung true for me because it was eerily similar to the thoughts I’ve had on the occasion when I’ve met “net friends” who crossed that boundary to become “real life friends” and it’s that, “oh god, oh god, oh god, what if we don’t like each other? What if my words misled them? What if I’m not as interesting in person as they thought I was online?”

    As if I hadn’t already fallen in love with Juliet and her friends by this point, reading that passage actually brought tears to my eyes (not even kidding) because I knew exactly what she was feeling at that precise moment because I’ve been there before. So yes, I loved this book. It was beautiful and charming and a sheer delight to read.

    However, I think potato peel pie sounds

    and I wouldn’t want to eat it.

  • Amalia Gavea

    Following an exciting April, I chose to start May with a focus on more contemporary, approachable reads that are simple but rich in themes focusing on the relationships within a family, within the members of

    Following an exciting April, I chose to start May with a focus on more contemporary, approachable reads that are simple but rich in themes focusing on the relationships within a family, within the members of small communities. One of these choices was a a book with the striking title The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Now, this work and yours truly have been through a stormy relationship. Ever since it came out, I’ve included it in my list only to dismiss it again and again. It just didn’t look like something I’d choose to read. However, I recently watched a documentary about the Channel Islands and I took it as a sign. And I am very happy to tell you that it is a delightful, meaningful novel.

    Even though I’m not an admirer of novels written in the epistolary form, this is the kind of book that benefits from the style. It protects the reader from awkward dialogue and repetition. So. The story in a nutshell. Juliet is a rather successful writer who desires to finally write something that will be fulfilling to her aspirations. A letter of chance by Dawsey, a resident of Guernsey, brings the literary society with the astonishing name and the special background to her attention and what was meant to be a simple research becomes a journey of self-discovery.

    I love the way the setting and the era come alive through the pages of this book. We are in 1946 and the island is trying to recover from the consequences of the German occupation. Juliet is going through a similar situation. She fights against dark memories, against prejudices and discriminations and bossy men who think she is incapable of producing a serious work just because she is a woman.The islanders want to be taken seriously. They’re not there to be laughed at or to be pitied. So, Juliet and Guernsey have much in common. Their thoughts and feelings are vividly shown and the reader has the chance to feel a part of both stories.

    I appreciated the way Shaffer chose to focus on human relationships. People so different and yet so similar, brought together by the primal need to survive and the unique love for reading. A society that starts as an excuse to fool the Kommandantur becomes a haven, a shelter for the islanders who derive strength from heroes and heroines of tales. Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, The Secret Garden, The Bronte sisters, Dickens, Wilkie Collins, the Bell siblings and, naturally, the One, the Greatest of the greats. William Shakespeare. The process of how people who had little to no association with books become dedicated readers was a joy to witness. And the fights, the antagonist, the passions that are inevitable in a small community where tensions have amounted for too long are always exciting…

    I didn’t believe that in an epistolary novel there would be space enough for the characters to develop but I was wrong. We have the sympathetic ones and those who suffocate the others because of their beliefs and their ego. And, of course, we have Juliet who is such a fascinating heroine, full of life and endless determination. I loved her from the very first letter. So, if character development is one of your concerns regarding this novel, fear not. You will come to know quite a few exciting people, you will love them while others will give you some trouble. Just as in real life.

    I didn’t come to think of this novel as a ‘’feel-good’’ story. What is this term, anyway? For me, there aren’t ‘’feel good’’ or ‘’feel bad’’ stories. There are well-written stories and badly written ones and many times, the most poignant tales are the ones that spring from togetherness and coincidences. They are told in a simple manner, in beautiful, quirky and sometimes sad prose. What could be more memorable than that? No pseudo-philosophical gimmicks or cheap sentimentalism but reality.

    ...plus there’s a plethora of references to Wuthering Heights and yes, I’m completely biased..

    My reviews can also be found on

  • Will Byrnes

    Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Schaffer - image from from chrestomanci.over-blog.com - Schaffer wrote most of the book, but was terminally ill so called in her niece, Barrows, to help her complete it.

    The GL&PPPS tells of Nazi occupation of this Channel Island during WW II. The story is told via a series of letters exchanged between residents of the island and a writer attempting to learn about their experiences. We are offered a wide range of characters, some warm and charming, some extremist bu

    Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Schaffer - image from from chrestomanci.over-blog.com - Schaffer wrote most of the book, but was terminally ill so called in her niece, Barrows, to help her complete it.

    The GL&PPPS tells of Nazi occupation of this Channel Island during WW II. The story is told via a series of letters exchanged between residents of the island and a writer attempting to learn about their experiences. We are offered a wide range of characters, some warm and charming, some extremist buffoons, some heroic, some not so heroic. The core of the story is Elizabeth, a particularly brave and wonderful individual. She is the emotional heart of the tale, as the many characters all have some experience that relates to her. Another important aspect is how all the characters relate around literature.

    From the film - image from Amazon

    Shaffer offers us a charming and wide-ranging palette of humanity trying their best to cope under very trying circumstances. As someone who knew very little about the occupation of the Channel Islands, I found it educational as well as a fun read. It reminds one of Alexander McCall Smith, not, clearly, for the specifics of the location, but for the warmth of the authorial tone. The writers clearly care about their characters and this place the way that Smith hovers lovingly over his imagined Botswana. Sit back and enjoy. This is a delightful, informative, and satisfying read that celebrates the impact of reading on people’s lives.

    From the film - image from Amazon

    The film is available on Netflix.

  • Zoë

    Although the abrupt ending frustrated me, the rest of the book was so soothing. This is probably due to the fact it was written in letters to loved ones and not the subject matter itself, as it focuses heavily on the atrocities of WWII. Also, it's a

    ! Nothing makes me happier than reading a book about why reading is wonderful.

    I read this because I watched and loved the Netflix adaptation (yes, I'm that monster who sometimes watches adaptations before reading the source material).

    Although the abrupt ending frustrated me, the rest of the book was so soothing. This is probably due to the fact it was written in letters to loved ones and not the subject matter itself, as it focuses heavily on the atrocities of WWII. Also, it's a

    ! Nothing makes me happier than reading a book about why reading is wonderful.

    I read this because I watched and loved the Netflix adaptation (yes, I'm that monster who sometimes watches adaptations before reading the source material). I think I may have liked the movie slightly more, not that this was bad or anything. So if you liked the book, I recommend the movie and vice versa!

  • Alisa

    I'm in favor of:

    -pig farmers as romantic leads

    -parrots named Zenobia who eat cuckoo clocks

    -women who do the asking

    I'm not in favor of:

    -strong silent types as romantic leads

    -adorable children

    -parrots getting more page time than goats

  • Melissa

    Believe it or not—as shallow as this may sound—the stunning movie tie-in cover was the catalyst, goading me to take a hard look and commit to a book that’s done little more than float along my periphery for years.

    What do you get when you combine a roast pig dinner, an unavoidable lie and the most unappetizing pie? A mouthful:

    Believe it or not—as shallow as this may sound—the stunning movie tie-in cover was the catalyst, goading me to take a hard look and commit to a book that’s done little more than float along my periphery for years.

    What do you get when you combine a roast pig dinner, an unavoidable lie and the most unappetizing pie? A mouthful:

    .

    Born from the quick thinking of a woman caught out after curfew and continued initially to thwart suspicion from the German occupation,

    took on a life of its own, becoming a salvation to the people of the small channel island during WWII. Providing hope, friendship and for some, a new-found love for books.

    An epistolary novel (

    ),

    picks up post-war, in 1946, relaying bits and pieces from the lives of what can only be described as a witty cast. There’s 30-something Juliet, a writer in London, fresh off a book tour and searching for that spark of an idea; something to obliterate her writer’s block. The bulk of the story is carried by Juliet, sharing her humor and reverie with childhood friends and the people she comes to care for in Guernsey.

    One of Juliet’s previously owned books, marked with her address, lands a letter from Dawsey Adams in her mailbox. In a twist of fate, that very book found its way from London to Guernsey, becoming a treasured tome to the new owner. Juliet and Dawsey’s exchanged thoughts spur a letter writing campaign of sorts. With their words and stories of survival, the people of Guernsey lure Juliet to their picturesque island.

    This is not what I would consider a literary tour-de-force by any means; especially where WWII fiction is concerned. It’s often predictable and even a bit silly, in some respects, but it’s a change of pace in a space that’s naturally filled with heavy reads. Like Juliet, I found myself smitten with the people of Guernsey—one of my favorite letters penned by a reluctant society attendee, turned full-fledged poetry reader, all to impress the woman who eventually becomes his wife.

    The back half of the story is much less compelling than the first. With Juliet on the island, the variety of voices from Guernsey are lost, and for some reason, so is her enchanting nature. For me, the story went from colorful to drab, finishing with an untimely and honestly, unfounded question. To be fair, this is one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to loves stories, so take my thoughts for what they are—the ramblings of a self-proclaimed picky reader.

    With that said, there is something all too charming about a book that pays homage to the written word—highlighting the fact that even in some of the bleakest moments, books wield the power to bring people together.

  • Emma  Kaufmann

    Once again I find myself reading ten pages of a book which is meant to be 'great' and wondering why it is just rubbish. I was meant to read this for a book club but it was about as palatable as a potato peel pie so I spat it out uneaten.

    Now, I'm sure there are American authors who can write in an authentic British voice (no one springs to mind, and Elizabeth George is terrible at it but at least her plot is not clunky) but Mary Ann Shaffer isn't one of them.

    This book has an epistolary plot that

    Once again I find myself reading ten pages of a book which is meant to be 'great' and wondering why it is just rubbish. I was meant to read this for a book club but it was about as palatable as a potato peel pie so I spat it out uneaten.

    Now, I'm sure there are American authors who can write in an authentic British voice (no one springs to mind, and Elizabeth George is terrible at it but at least her plot is not clunky) but Mary Ann Shaffer isn't one of them.

    This book has an epistolary plot that just goes clunk clunk clunk.

    Firstly, it is set in London in 1946 where we meet a fairly posh author who, rather than using the polite and rather stilted language that people used in 1946 sounds like Sex in the City circa 2008.

    I mean, come on, Mary Ann, have you ever even read a letter from 1946?

    So, you have letters flying around in 1946 which sound like they were written sixty years later. How are you meant to get into this?

    Then of course, a man in Guernsey writes to this author woman, says he has found a book with her name and address written on the flyleaf, there are currently no books in Guernsey, can she procure him some from London? Of course the lady author sends this poor man in Guernsey some books and writes him long letters. As if.

    Note to Americans: posh English authors in 1946 would not have been quite this effusive to a person who wasn't even a fan of her books.

    Obviously this clunky device is meant to start a stupid story going about this guy in Guernsey telling her all about his experiences when the Nazi's invaded Guernsey. Save me. All about as authentic as a Hallmark movie about the Nazis.

    This book reminded me of the children's American Girl series which take periods in history, and have a girl heroine who gives a personal and hightly sanitized view of American history, but does a fairly good job seeing as the audience for these books is 6 to 10 year olds. But this book is meant to be for adults. Save me. This is WWII lite.

    Take this quote:

    "I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.”

    Or maybe someone bought it in a bookshop and took it to Guernsey?

    This sums up the tone of this tome. Twee beyond endurance.

  • Megha

    Dear Mary Ann Shaffer,

    I recently read your book 'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society'. It brought a few questions to my mind.

    Juliet writes in one of her letters:

    Didn't Sidney know what present he had sent?

    If you had to resort to sentences like these to speak what you wanted to, didn't you realize that the letter format and your writing didn't go well together?

    Learning from your bad exam

    Dear Mary Ann Shaffer,

    I recently read your book 'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society'. It brought a few questions to my mind.

    Juliet writes in one of her letters:

    Didn't Sidney know what present he had sent?

    If you had to resort to sentences like these to speak what you wanted to, didn't you realize that the letter format and your writing didn't go well together?

    Learning from your bad example, I will quit trying to be fancy, stop this letter here and write a regular review.

    A Reader.

    ** Spoiler Alert **

    Novel written in epistolary format. Set in post WWII England.1946.

    Juliet is a 30-something writer living in London. (She is like this perfect human being who is universally loved. The only people who dislike even the smallest thing about her are the evil people). One day she receives a letter from a man living on Guernsey islands who found her address on a second hand book he had. Soon Juliet is exchanging letters with the members of Guernsey literary society and people talk about what books they like and why. Then suddenly everyone forgets about the books and Guernsey people start sharing their most intimate experiences from the time during the world war with Juliet, who is only a stranger. A few weeks later Juliet goes to the Guernsey islands to meet and interview these people. Of course everyone there just loves her (except the evil woman). She stays there for a few months and decides to adopt a four year old orphan girl she met there. The girl of course loves Juliet more than the people who have raised her. And then Juliet marries a pig farmer and settles down on the Guernsey islands.

    So much for the

    plot. (I should have just known better, just look at the cheesy title.)

    It shouldn't be difficult for a decent writer to develop good characters when using a letter format, since each character gets his/her own voice. However, all the characters in this book seem to talk in exactly the same manner. Be it an accomplished writer from the city of London or farmers from a remote island, their letters sound just the same. Irrespective of whether the letters are being written to a close friend or to a complete stranger. Almost all of the characters have only a single trait. For some of the characters I can't recall even a single distinct characteristic.

    Mary Ann tries to have everything in one book. She has grazed the surface of numerous topics like books, world war, art, nature love, bucolic life, friendship, love, homosexuality, religion and so on. None of these get more than a superficial treatment. Stories about Nazi occupation of Guernsey don't tell you anything

    about the war. They just revolve around this saint of a woman who died during the war while trying to show-off her heroism. To add to this drama, halfway through the book Mary Ann shifted the focus to Juliet trying to decide between different love interests (too many people love her, you know). Why is this book being marketed a historical novel?

    Another one of those recent successful books that everyone is raving about. I don't get it.

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