Review: ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’

By Helena Chung

I first came across this book in a very unusual way: an extract on a mock examination paper. Normally I am not interested in reading a book I did for analysis, but this extract was so interesting that it just stuck in my mind, and afterwards I simply couldn’t resist reading the whole book. It is probably one of the very rare surprises (in a good way) that schoolwork brings to bookworms. And I am so glad that I paid attention to the title instead of throwing it to the back of my head, for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (a weird title that is explained in the book) is one of the most enjoyable and interesting books I have read in a long time.

Just like the beloved favourite 84, Charing Road Cross Road, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a collection of letters between the witty writer Juliet Ashton and the book lovers of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands occupied by the Germans during WWII. As Juliet’s friendship with the islanders blossom, so does the reader’s affection for these charming characters.

From this brief description, one may expect a light-hearted and playful tale about books and letters, as well as a bit of romance in the style of chicken soup for the soul. However, the authors Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows clearly have greater ambitions, for both Juliet and the Guernsey inhabitants are survivors, survivors of WWII, which took away numerous lives and caused unimaginable trauma to those left mourning their lost loved ones.

This may sound a bit too depressing to enjoy on a quiet evening snuggled in bed, but please don’t let the historical background of Juliet’s story intimidate you, for instead of dwelling on the pain and tragedies of war, it is a tale of friendship, courage, endurance, humour and of course, the power of books.

Certainly, just like most war fiction, both the beauty and darkness of human nature are demonstrated through the choices of the Guernsey people, yet it is the joy and warmth of the intellectual discussion on books that leaves the lasting impression on Juliet (and the readers) as the islanders recount their bittersweet experiences during the German occupation.

Out of all the amazing characters in these letters, it is really hard to decide on which one I like the most. There is our witty narrator Juliet, whose lively tone and hint of sarcasm transport the readers to the beautiful seaside of Guernsey. Then we also have the melodramatic yet adorable Isola, the motherly Amelia, not to mention Sophie and Sidney, Juliet’s faithful editor and friends throughout her journey from London to Guernsey. Even the arrogant Mark serves his role as foil to the adorable Dawsey, who captures not only the heart of our heroine, but also that of the readers. However, Elizabeth is the one who stays in my mind. Free-spirited with a strong will, she embodies the best virtues of humanity and leaves an everlasting influence on those around her.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Lie Society is a must-read for every book lover, and I strongly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a great story to devour.

P.S. It has just been announced that actress Lily James will star in the movie adaptation.

Images: Faye Chua, Bloomsbury

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