Books, Review

Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The-Guernsey-Literary-and-Potato-Peel-Pie-Society

My god is that a mouthful. First note about this novel: the title is four words too long, but I’ll elaborate on that later.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (from here on end will be referenced to as TGLPPPS…oh dear even that’s kind of long) is centred around Juliet Ashton, a 30-something year old writer living in England post WWII. During the war she wrote a column under the name “Izzy Bickerstaff” discussing aspects of the war in an implied sense of humour, which is complied into a book and published.

She receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a man who lives on the channel island of Guernsey, who came into possession of her copy of a book by Charles Lamb. Her name and address were written inside the book. He is a member of TGLPPPS, and explains to Juliet that during the war, Guernsey was under German Occupation, and the society was what helped keep their spirits up. Juliet, coincidentally, is asked to write a column about the impact of reading, and asks Dawsey if she can use TGLPPPS as the topic of her article. Dawsey procedes to give her address to other members of the society so they can tell her their stories. She learns about the island under the occupation, particularly about a woman named Elizabeth McKenna, who got pregnant by a German soldier who died in the war, had a daughter named Kit, and then sent to a concentration camp for breaking the law where she was later executed.

While this is happening there is this ridiculous “love triangle” between Juliet, an American publisher named Mark Reynolds, and Sidney Stark, Juliet’s good friend and publisher, which immediately gets shattered when we find out that Sidney’s gay–though the men still hate each other. Juliet tells Sidney all about TGLPPPS and they decide she should write a book about Guernsey and the occupation. Juliet visits the island, meets the people she’s been corresponding with and lives in Elizabeth’s cottage where she grows fond of Kit. At some point of her trip, Dawsey takes Sidney’s place in the awkward love triangle, and to make things fun a French woman is thrown in the mix. Eventually Juliet breaks up with Mark, moves permanently to the island, adopts Kit and marries Dawsey.

Ok, so how what did I think of the book?

It was okay. The entire time I was reading the book there were times I couldn’t put it down, and others when I wasn’t sure if it was worth picking it up again.

I think part of the problem was the format of the story. I know a few posts back I praised the letter, but letters was not the way this story should have been told. If anything, it should have been classic narrative with letters thrown in. I would have liked to read a sample of the Izzy Bickerstaff column, Juliet’s article on the impact of reading, or even the book she’s working throughout the story, but none of that happens.

The format forces strange elements, like Sidney gets stuck on another continent just so letters have to be written to him, and a pointless character named Susan who works for Sidney writes letters because she’s the only one who would have that point of view.

Also, the format is interrupted abruptly from letters to “The Observations of Isola Pribbly”—which is where I assume Anne Barrows took up the story from the late Mary Ann Shaffer.

Furthermore, I found a lot of stray plot lines that never really go anywhere. For one, there’s Sidney, who gets stranded in Australia because he breaks his leg (probably so Juliet has to write letters to him). There’s the French woman, Remy, who was at the concentration camp with Elizabeth and tells the Islanders how she was executed, and becomes a somewhat love-interest for Dawsey (probably to push that romance along). Then there’s how we never hear about the article Juliet was supposed to be writing when she decides to do a book instead (she PROMISED to write the article). And one of the members, Isola, has letters written by Oscar Wilde (that almost get stolen)…?

In what way is that an insult?
What does that have to do with the main plot?

To top that all off, the potato peel pie is only mentioned twice. TWICE. Apparently that makes it title worthy.

What is a potato peel pie, you may ask? Why, it’s a pie made of mashed potato, beet juice, and potato peels for crust.

While that may sound gross, it takes what I love most about this book. It represents Guernsey in the occupation, and how people had to be resourceful and make do with what they had. There’s this part when they Islanders explain how they have to raise pigs for the soldiers to eat, and that to trick them, when one pig dies it gets passed around from house to house so they can keep a pig in secret so the islanders themselves have food to eat. I love that! There are stories about making soap with lard, and a funny one about how this woman gets kicked out of TGLPPPS because she reads out of her recipe book and everyone calls it torture. There’s even a story about a man who masquerades as his former employer so he doesn’t get sent to a concentration camp. I wish the entirety was about that–but no, we have to get broken ankle in Australia and love triangles and a conspiracy to steal letters written by Oscar Wilde.

And despite the story sounding like the Inkheart-book-lovers story it was sounding like, it didn’t ever reach that point.

I guess I should mention the love triangle(s) huh?

While I was glad that Juliet ended up with Dawsey in the end, I still don’t remember if there was any chemistry at all. And there’s this one letter Juliet writes that infuriates me, where she claims Dawsey was never the man for her because he thinks she has “sunny nature and light heart”, and she is insulted.

In what way is that an insult?
In what way is that an insult?

And that leads me to my biggest problem. I don’t like Juliet. I don’t know what it is. I love Isola, and Amelia, and Eben, and Eli, and Kit and Elizabeth, and Sidney, and Dawsey…but I don’t like her. I think it’s simply in the way she thinks of herself a spunky young woman who’s got nothing to lose.

That’s not how you think when you’re 32. That’s how you think when you’re 16.

And maybe her real attitude is different then how she come off in her letters, but for me, I kept thinking, “this a sixteen year old who is crushing on strangers, babbling about books in a romanticized way, talking about dresses and forgetting to FINISH THEIR ARTICLE!” It annoyed me to no end.

I think that the story would have been much better in classic narrative and if it talked only about the occupation. It was the best part of the book, and that alone would be a story worth reading. I don’t think I would even mind if Juliet were the narrator. For all I complain about the side plots, they weren’t terrible, at some points they were enjoyable, but I find that if they were integrated better then the story would work better as a whole. If you’re looking for a book about WWII with a bit of chick lit thrown in, check it out.

Verdict: Will possibly pick up again someday, but to only reread my favourite scenes.

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books.” -The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, 47

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