The first time I fell in love with “The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society” was when I read its title. I loved saying it out loud and loved the way its long title filled my mouth. The alliterating Ps and the juxtaposition of literary & potato compelled me to say the name out loud again and again. The title, thankfully, was just the beginning – a precursor to a delightful and heart-warming story.
Set against a post World War II England, The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society is an epistolary tale – a story told entirely in letters. Juliet Ashton, the protagonist of the story is an author who is not sure of what to write next. While trying to search for an appropriate subject, she receives an unexpected letter from Dawsey Adams of Guernsey – a group of islands in the English Channel which was occupied by the Germans during World War II. Dawsey had chanced upon an old Charles Lamb book of Juliet’s and wanted to learn more of Charles Lamb’s works. Thus begins a correspondence which leads to a flurry of exchanges between Juliet and Dawsey and Juliet and other members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society of which Dawsey was a member too.
In a way the book is a portrait of a people occupied by enemy forces during a war. In many ways, such an experience is just like any other experience in that it too changes you and shapes you. The difference I guess is that it’s also one of those experiences which by the virtue of being what it is sharpens and brings into focus the kind of person you really are. Or that is what I got from the book anyway. Despite being set against this backdrop, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is not a story which depresses; it is one which uplifts.
Part of the charm is the atmosphere evoked by the descriptions of Guernsey – the mist covered seas, the vibrant greens, the flowers which seem to grow up even in the cracks of the streets. A part of me wanted to transport myself to the island and experience its beauty for myself.
The other reason why I fell in love with the book is the characters. I wanted to be friends with them and wanted to talk with them beyond the story. There’s innate warmth to the characters which makes them feel like people you can depend on in times of trouble. Each character has his or her distinctive voice – each of their letters has a different tone. Let me talk about two of them.
Dawsey Adams – antithetical to a swashbuckling, sweep you off-your-feet kind of a hero Dawsey has a quiet competency which attracts you. Everyone turns to Dawsey in times of need or when something needs to get done. A simple man who feels keenly for Charles Lamb’s fate, Dawsey is the person who will never take the center stage but will be the one on whom everyone depends. There is a sheer goodness about this character which is compelling.
Isola Pribby is another character I promptly fell in love with! A complete busybody she loves the Bronte sisters and thinks men are more interesting in books than in real life. Loud, colorful and loyal, she reminds you of an eccentric friend whose heart is in the right place. The book is full of such characters. Quirky, they’re the kind of people you wish were your neighbours and are the kind of people with whom you’d want to build a community.
How could I not love characters who say things such as books having an inbuilt homing instinct which lands them in the hands of the perfect reader. And this brings me to my next point – people who love books especially should definitely read The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society. The discussion of Wuthering Heights made me wonder as well about the defining moment which makes us fall in love with a particular book. Is it a specific moment or is it more of a feeling which swells up as we progress through the story? Even more, WHY do we fall in love with some books and not others? Is it because the author has a knack for putting into words things we struggle with or is it a combination of a lot of things? Maybe that’s a topic for a different post all together!
All said and done, I’d strongly recommend this book to anyone who’s in the mood to be delighted and would like to grin. A lot. Because of course humour is the other thread which weaves itself throughout the story. Charming and thoroughly enjoyable, I defy anyone to NOT feel good once they’re done with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society! Go, pick your copy!