Saturday, 4 January 2014

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
Published by Bloomsbury
7th June 2010
Paperback edition
It's 1946 and Juliet Ashton can't think what to write next.  Out of the blue, she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams of Guernsey - by chance, he's acquired a book that once belonged to her - and, spurred on by their mutual love of reading, they begin a correspondence.  When Dawsey reveals that he is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Juliet's curiosity is piqued and it's not long before she begins to hear from other members.  As letters fly back and forth with stories of life in Guernsey under the German Occupation, Juliet soon realises that the society is every bit as extraordinary as its name.
Mr Sidney Stark, Publisher
Stephens & Stark Ltd
21 St James' Place
London SW1
8th January 1946
Dear Sidney,
     Susan Scott is a wonder.  We sold over forty copies of the book, which was very pleasant, but much more thrilling from my standpoint was the food.  Susan managed to get hold of ration coupons for icing sugar and real eggs for the meringue.  If all her literary luncheons are going to achieve these heights, I won't mind touring the country.  Do you suppose that a lavish bonus could spur her on to butter?  Let's try it - you may deduct the money from my royalties.
     Now for my grim news.  You asked me how work on my new book is progressing.  Sidney, it isn't.  English Foibles seemed so promising at first. After all, one should be able to write reams about the Society to Protest Against the Glorification of the English Bunny.  I unearthed a photograph of the Vermin Exterminators' Trade Union, marching down an Oxford street with placards screaming 'Down with Beatrix Potter!' But what is there to write about after a caption?  Nothing, that's what.
     I no longer want to write this book - my head and my heart just aren't in it.  Dear as Izzy Bickerstaff is - and was - to me, I don't want to write anything else under that name.  I don't want to be considered a light-hearted journalist any more.  I do acknowledge that making readers laugh - or at least chuckle - during the war was no mean feat, but I don't want to do it anymore.  I can't seem to dredge up any sense of proportion or balance these days, and God knows one can't write humour without them.
     In the meantime, I am very happy that Stephens & Stark is making money on Izzy Bickerstaff Goes to War.  It relieves my conscience over the debacle of my Anne Bronte biography.
     My thanks for everything and love,
     P.S.  I am reading the collected correspondence of Mrs Montagu.  Do you know what that dismal woman wrote to Jane Carlyle? 'My dear little Jane, everyone is born with a vocation, and yours, is to write charming little notes.' I hope Jane spat at her.
This is one of those books that I've been meaning to read for an age - since it came out in-fact.  For some reason though it hasn't happened and then, by chance, I stumbled on an un-read copy, no less, in the charity shop a few weeks back and bought it.  On New Year's Eve, having finished the book I was previously reading, I needed something new to start and gazing at the shelves, this one jumped out at me - though not literally of course!
The book is a series of letters from author Juliet, to her publisher Sidney, to his sister, Sophie and then to the collected members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  The Second World War has just finished and life is returning, somewhat, to normal, but for the Islanders of Guernsey, returning to normality after being held captive by the Germans is a little harder.  Juliet learns of how life was for them during the final years of the war, and of the Society formed out of the blue one night, that kept them all going, both then and now.  Writing back and forth to each other, new friendships are formed, and Juliet decides she needs to go to Guernsey to meet this wonderful group of people.  It's a move that will ultimately change her life.
This is a real feel-good book, similar to I Capture the Castle by Dodi Smith, which kept me turning the pages all-night long.  Mary Ann Shaffer, and later her niece Ann Barrows (after Shaffer falls to ill to continue the book) write with humour and true personality - I believed these letters and in the characters who wrote them. Having lived on Jersey for a few years, I know about the Occupation and the effect that it had on the Channel Islands as a collective.  Whether this made the book more appealing to me I can't say, but I've already recommended it!  A great first read of the year!
Happy Reading
Miss Chapter x



  1. I have just finished "The Sleeper by Emily Barr" which I read in 3 days.
    That was a very good read, although I could have slapped Sam.
    This latest book sound like one that would not have to be read in one go, a sort of book one could keep in the handbag and read a bit at a time. Am I wrong?

  2. Thanks Cally, Sam did need a good shake didn't he? Glad you enjoyed it. The beauty of this book is that it's perfect for dipping in and out of as the whole thing is made up of letters - only I couldn't stop dipping! X


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