Wednesday, September 9, 2009

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Guensey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society'

The Book: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Authors: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

How I Found It: My high school librarian mentioned it during a book club meeting and it stuck in my mind.

The Review: I will start off by saying that PaperbackSwap is one of the best inventions ever, ever known to man. In short, you trade your books with club members in order to obtain their books and have them sent to you.

I've been a member for two years and have mainly sent off books from my childhood that, while I enjoyed, I could no longer get use out of. I really liked seeing where my books were going-- I've even sent some to Alaska and Hawaii. And I've really enjoyed the thanks I get from the people who get them, especially when I'm told their daughter will love the book, etc.

I suppose it is appropriate that I obtained my copy of Guernsey through PaperbackSwap, as the plot of the novel begins in 1946 when a Guernsey man writes to a woman whose used book he owns. His name is Dawsey and hers is Juliet; the book is by Charles Lamb. Dawsey does not know Juliet, but on finding her address in the front of her book, he writes to her asking if she can direct him to Charles Lamb's other writings. He also (tantalizingly, to Juliet and the reader) mentions the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Juliet marvels at how her beloved copy of the book wound up in just the right hands, something I have often done when I send out my own books to their new homes. I love sending books I loved out to people who will enjoy them, too. For me, the journey usually ends with a thanks from the recipient. For Juliet, she is brought into the lives of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

They are a very distinct bunch of characters and I am delighted that Shaffer (the primary writer of the book; her niece, Barrows, took over when Shaffer became ill and passed away) could create characters with such unique voices. I've read many a book where each character sounds exactly the same. But no, these characters are like old friends whose personalities you know as well as your own. I was a little bit in love with every character.

I laughed a lot and also cried. The subject matter, often dealing with World War II and the German occupation of Guernsey, is not an easy one to write about, never mind in a book that has so much levity. But it was pulled off well and I was very pleased with its portraits of strong women. Though Juliet is the narrator, the heart of the book is the story of Elizabeth, the woman who came up with the lie that eventually became the Society.

I enjoyed how each author connected to a character (Isola and her Bronte fascination was funniest). I was surprised Austen didn't get mentioned until late in the game, but when she did, it was funny enough that it paid off. A book about reading is hard to do, I think-- after all, what if the reader doesn't like yours?-- but this one came off so well. If ever the Jane Austen Book Club and the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society were to fight over me for membership, I'm not sure which I would join.

Very highly recommended to anyone who loves to read. A quick, funny, but also sad read about some fascinating characters and the books they love.

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