“If books do have the power to bring people together, this one may work it’s magic.”
Trust the CE to find the pseudo-Hallmark of the week, in this instance, the Historical Fiction of the adaptation of a book published more than ten years previous amid vocal yays and nays. But, once again, my attention snagged, I sat and watched the two hour 3 minute movie with him. Seems we are in the grip of WWII stories and it doesn’t take much more than the slightest undertones of romance and a happy ever after to get the attention of those who hear the ka-ching in the wind. So yes, FIRST I watched the movie, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, although it was awhile before I noticed the audiobook come up at my local, well-stocked (audiobook) library. Once more I discovered quite the wide disparity of book vs TV version and glad I saw the Netflix rendering first.
No doubt most of my readers watched this movie before I did. Briefly, for those who haven’t, a successful London writer gets a letter from a resident of Guernsey and responds to his inquiry which begins an odyssey into the war history of the residents who invented a book club in the face of probable arrest by the Nazi occupiers.
In 1941, four friends confronted by soldiers of the German occupation invent a book club to explain why they’ve broken curfew. The historical romantic-drama borrowed heavily from the cast of Downton Abbey in forming a solid, immersive cast on film.
In 1946, Juliet Ashton receives an inquiry from one of the residents of Guernsey that sets off a barrage of correspondence eventually resulting in her move to the island to get to know them better and write a book about their WWII stories. Juliet has been writing successfully as Izzy Bickerstaff but explains to her publisher, Sidney Stark, that she wishes to write something of greater substance and senses a winning story.
It doesn’t take long to get to know the residents, appreciate their kindness, and understand their reticence in sharing emotional stories. Many of the stories keep revolving around another resident named Elizabeth, the founding member of the Society. Elizabeth’s daughter Kit was left with members of the Society when Elizabeth was arrested. She is still missing but hope remains for her return.
Juliet had left Mark in London expecting to return, an American in the armed forces, who proposed to her shortly before she left for Guernsey. He gleans info regarding Elizabeth for Juliet to relay to the Society, but her heart is now in Guernsey; the people, a man named Dawsey, Kit, and she’ll stay there.
Enter your happy ever after, queue the violins, swell the volume, fade to scenic pictures of the happy couple with the sun setting on the surf.
Being a war baby, I got stories from my mother, the pictures, the music—the wartime mentality. Stamps for provisions, making due (chicory instead of coffee), darning until the clothes fell apart, shoes stuffed with paper or cardboard. So, yes, perhaps I tend to get a bit nostalgic. I’m not big on romance novels or movies, but there is more to this story than the romance both Juliet and Dawsey were denying. There is happiness gleaned in stories of triumph and the tragedy of loss. The scenes shot across England were beautiful, the clothing and hairstyles authentic. The production is engaging enough to forgive a few little details that might have been glossed over. 5 stars
January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….
As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends – and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island – boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all. Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.
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.
WHOA! What a shock to discover the novel is actually Epistolary Fiction. Not that I haven’t read other books in that particular format, I guess, just that I didn’t know there was a name for that. Letters. A literary work made entirely in the form of letters. Hence, the multiple narrators (for the different characters in the audiobook).
Not at all what I was expecting. But then after a chapter or two, I expected it to evolve. It didn’t.
First, the speed with which letters seem to fly back and forth left me wondering about post-wartime posts. With addresses disappearing daily during the raids and people missing, there was still the capacity of posting and receiving letters that fast?
Rather than trading letters and characters every chapter, I wished for some off-page narration. A little filler.
The letters, though written (and narrated) by different characters all seemed to have much the same sense of humor and insight. Only the character of Mark, the wealthy American, who was largely offensive, seemed distinct.
I did enjoy a number of the little side stories, dips into the characters for instance of Dawsey Adams, a pig farmer, and how a pig was used to dupe the Germans. I’m quite sure many such shenanigans were played, lightening the dark times just enough to make bearable another day under deplorable conditions.
Still, I was never able to become engaged with Juliet and the letters as laid out, always wanting to “fill in” what I perceived missing. 3 1/2 stars
This would not have been my choice of reading had I known it was an Epistolary novel. And quite possibly, I’d have denied myself the pleasure of the book seen through the visionaries in the Netflix movie had I read the book first. So much is conveyed through sight and scene, the flashbacks, the instant impressions that make the movie come alive. The desperation, hurt, denial, and guilt, missing in part in the novel. The actors were superb. Their eyes spoke volumes. The letters failed to impart that emotion for me.
I have to give the Netflix movie the nod over the novel. If you haven’t had the pleasure, even at this late date, look for it.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Genre: World War II Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction
Publisher: Random House Audio (Unabridged)
Listening Length: 8 hrs 7 min
Narrator: Paul Boehmer, Susan Duerden, Rosalyn Landor, John Lee, Juliet Mills
Audible Release: September 2, 2008
Publication Date: August 1, 2006
Source: Local Library (Audiobook Selections)
Publisher: The Dial Press
Genre: Epistolary Fiction, Historical World War II Fiction, World War Historical Fiction
Print Length: 306 pages
ISBN : 0385341008
Publication Date: July 29, 2008
Title Link: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society [Amazon]
[Goodreads] Mary Ann Shaffer worked as an editor, a librarian, and in bookshops. Her life-long dream was to someday write her own book and publish it. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was her first novel. Unfortunately, she became very ill with cancer and so she asked her niece, Annie Barrows, the author of the children’s series Ivy and Bean, as well as The Magic Half, to help her finish the book. Mary Ann Shaffer died in February 2008, a few months before her first novel was published.
Juliet Maryon Mills (born 21 November 1941) is a British-American actress of film, stage, and television. She is the daughter of actor Sir John Mills and Mary Hayley Bell born November 1, 1941 in London and the eldest of three siblings; her younger siblings are actress Hayley Mills and director Jonathan Mills. [Wikipedia]
©2021 V Williams