Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Reviewed by Connie

Published: 2008

It's about: This epistolary novel tells the story of Juliet Ashton, a London-based author/reporter who corresponds with her publisher (who's also a dear friend), her college roommate, and a handsome man who is seeking her romantic attentions as she struggles to come up with her next book idea. By chance, she receives a letter from a man in Guernsey (a little island off the Southern coast of England) about a writer she admires, mentioning in passing the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. Thus begins a friendship that will change her life. Juliet in turn writes to many of the island's inhabitants, learning their stories of how reading brought them together and got them through the German occupation of their island, and the stories seem like the perfect subject for her new book. Eventually, the inhabitants of Guernsey become more real to her than the people she sees every day.

I thought: It is completely uncharacteristic of me to do this, but to talk about this book, I have to set aside my critical, literary-focused (and let's be honest, a little book snobbish) brain. So there it is, on the chair beside me, though try not to visualize that for too long. Now I can tell you, I really really enjoyed this book.

The characters are pretty flat, and it's very clearly divided between all-good characters and all-evil characters, but gosh darn it if those flat characters aren't so cozy and appealing you can't help but enjoy it. The book is overly simplistic, but in the way you longingly wish the world could really be. Though admittedly unrealistic, the characters of Guernsey are the simple, appealing characters who inhabit that quaint small town you've always dreamed of becoming a part of -- on an island you've always dreamed of escaping to.

The book is a pleasant escape. I could wax critical and point out that for a book with World War II at its core it's rather lacking in profundity, or that though the letters supposedly come from different characters, their writing styles are remarkably similar. But why should I, when I so enjoyed curling up with this book and escaping to Guernsey every evening? It reminded me of that movie, 84 Charing Cross Road (Haven't seen it? Watch it now!) Plus, it touches just enough on serious subject matters (World War II, the power of the written word, what really matters in life) that it isn't a total fluffy, guilty pleasure.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf

Reading Recommendations: Don't read this book too critically, or you will be truly disappointed. Also, guess what? Kenneth Branagh is going to direct a film adaptation of this book starring Kate Winslett as Juliet Ashton. As I love them both, I'm very much looking forward to the movie, due out in 2013.


Warnings: a touch of corny romance

Favorite excerpts:
"Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true."

"I love seeing the bookshops and meeting the booksellers -- booksellers really are a special breed. No one in their right mind would take up clerking in a book store for the salary, and no one in his right mind would want to own one -- the margin of profit is too small. So, it has to be a love of readers and reading that makes them do it -- along with first dibs on the new books."

"Men are more interesting in books than they are in real life."

"Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books."

What I'm reading next: To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf