Monday, 1 June 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

I think I must be the last person on earth to read this. It's another one I was worried about being over-hyped, but I'm glad I eventually read it. It was a very light, short read,and perfect for where I read it which was on a train. I actually managed to finish it on the return journey. Considering the subject matter, I was actually surprised how easy to read this was.

Written totally in letter form, the main character is Juliet Ashton, and all the letters are written either to or from her. She is a author who wrote humorous columns on the war for a London newspaper and is looking for something new and more challenging to write about. Set in 1946, she starts a totally random communication with a man in Guernsey, who by chance has come across a book previously owned by Juliet, and writes requesting information and more books. Through communication with this man, and eventually other people on the island, Juliet develops a friendship with these people, and eventually visits and stays for a considerable amount of time.

The letters are initially about books, and the Literary and Potato Peel Society, but as she learns more information, Juliet becomes engrossed in the sufferings and life of the islanders during the Nazi occupation. This actually stems from the setting up of the Literary and Potato Peel society, which Juliet learns was originally set up as an alibi for why some of the islanders were outside after curfew, but soon became a crucial part of life for Juliet's new friends. I loved this book just for this, that a sense of community and belonging can develop from sharing literature, but I also loved it for so much more.

Some of the events described in the islanders letters are pretty grim. The starvation, the oppression and almost total abandonment by England are tough to read, but the sense of community that the islanders developed is inspiring, and although this is fiction, the events are not, and it is easy to imagine a small island pulling together like this. All the islanders supported each other, and were almost like a family, to the point of looking after each others children when necessary. It was also interesting to get the perspective of the Germans from people who were actually under their occupation. It is all too easy to classify all Nazi German soldiers as bad, but this book makes it clear that this was possibly not the case. They were human too, and some of them although doing a job, were as horrified at the conditions as the islanders themselves.

I'm not going to say too much more about this because it would be all too easy to give the plot away totally. essentially it's a story about humanity and compassion, friendship and love and most of all, survival. If by any chance anyone hasn't read this yet, then all I can say is that you should, but I think most people already have!


Charley said...

You are not the last! I'm not sure that I'll read this one, but your review of it is great.

Dot said...

I loved this book! Great review!

Anna said...

Thanks for the review! I've posted it here.

Diary of an Eccentric