The Arts, Etc.



The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Dial Press ©2008, IBSN 978-0-385-34100-4

Reviewed by Jane O'Donoghue


Juliet Ashton, an author living in post WWII England, strives to find inspiration for a new novel. The humor column she wrote during the war brought her modest fame. Yet now, in the war's aftermath, life has become humdrum and dreary. Then, a potential suitor -- a rich American -- perks up her social life. London is rebuilding from the devastation even as the rationing of foods and clothing continues.

When she receives a letter dated 12 January 1946 from a Dawsey Adams of Chertsey Islands, she's intrigued. He has found a secondhand book of Charles Lamb's poetry that has her name and old address written inside. That was her home before German bombs destroyed her apartment building.

Adams is enamored of Charles Lamb and seeks the name of a bookstore in London where he might find more books about and by him. He mentions a Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society that was formed during the war as a cover-up for a clandestine gathering to roast a pig. A woman friend sent him a note saying to come to her house that day and bring a butcher knife. She had a pig, forbidden by the German occupiers to possess, and planned on roasting it that night. Any pigs were sent to Germany to feed the troops. The group of friends enjoyed the meal which lasted beyond the time of the invaders' curfew.

Upon leaving the gathering, one man feeling the need to sing, broke out in song causing German soldiers, with guns drawn, to confront them. Quickly, and with poise, one woman explained they were returning from a literary gathering where they discussed a book titled, "Elizabeth and Her German Garden." She impressed them enough so that they were allowed to continue home, but they must meet the commandant the next day. Thus was formed a book club where each member read and discussed books of their choice.

Juliet fulfills Adams' Charles Lamb request and asks to hear more about the Literary Society, its members' names, and what books they read.

For the rest of the book, written entirely in letters exchanged with the publisher, author, friends, Literary Society members and others, Juliet's life (and mine) was enlightened to learn of the German invasion and occupation of this small British Island in the English Channel and the difficult years of survival. There is cruelty, death, deception, some collaboration with the enemy, near starvation, and yet many beautiful stories of heroics, friendship and love. Each correspondent mentions the books chosen for discussion and why they enjoyed them.

Personalities, hopes, dreams, strengths, and fears are also revealed in the well-written, brief or detailed letters. Each letter defines its writer.

The story is told by peeling back the layers of the island's occupation years and how these virtual prisoners survived the war. I loved the development of the characters through their letters. I found it hard to put down the book until I finished reading the final chapter.

This is a delightful book which I recommend to anyone. As a retired librarian, I feel safe in suggesting it to any age. Even teens could unknowingly learn a little history not found in their text books.

A sad note: When the author became ill, her almost-finished manuscript was given to her niece, Annie Barrows, also an author, who completed it with the help of a dedicated editor. Mary Ann Shaffer died the year her story was published.

JANE O'DONOGHUE IS A RETIRED SCHOOL LIBRARIAN AND AVID READER. A FREELANCE WRITER, HER WORK HAS APPEARED IN LOCAL PUBLICATIONS. SHE TRIES TO KEEP AU COURANT IN THE FIELD OF CHILDREN'S BOOKS AND ADMIRES THE MANY TALENTED WRITERS WHO PRODUCE QUALITY WORKS FOR THE YOUNG.



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