Isobel Cuddigan happens upon a recent classic, there are Nazis but it isn’t cliché, honest.
This is the kind of book that has been passed on from one person to another. Every so often such a book comes along. So amazing that everyone you know that has an appreciation for a good book, must also experience this new discovery of yours. Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows bring us this literary delight. I had never heard of it before, but was excited to start it due to the glowing reviews it received from many friends and their families. It was one of those books that the moment I read the first page I knew it was going to be a favourite. I must admit the cover of the book, which is normally important for me, was not too exciting, it was slightly bland. The story inside however was anything but.
The story is set in post WWII Britain and is a series of letters from Juliet Ashton and members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. This unusual society was invented on the spot when a group of locals were caught heading home drunk after curfew, by their Nazi occupiers during World War II. The correspondence between Juliet and the society begin by her out of the blue receiving a letter from Dawsey Adams (a member of the society) saying he had acquired a book that once belonged to her. Their mutual love for reading and interest in an author of the time called Charles Lamb made the decision for them to send each other letters about their lives a natural one.
The heroine of the story, successful journalist from London, Juliet is seeking something new at the beginning of the novel. We see in her letter to her friend and publisher Sidney that she no longer wants to write the light hearted stories she had been writing under the pseudonym of Izzy Bickerstaff. As she is searching for something different she receives the letters from Guernsey and as their correspondence evolves she begins to develop the letters and their stories into the basis of her new novel.
As Juliet receives more and more letters from different members of the society, I began, like her, to become even more interested in this small island in the English Channel and its inhabitants. As the novel developed I began to see the hardships suffered in Guernsey during the German occupation there during the war. These letters are the beginning of a friendship between Juliet and the many members of the society.
The way the letters are written it is very clear to see the different personalities of the different characters in the book. They all seem so realistic, as if you could go out to Guernsey now and find them all seated around the table in Amelia Maugery’s kitchen. Some of the letters are serious, while others are truly comical, just like the variety of personalities in the book. There is one character from Guernsey that sends letters to Julia called Adelaide Addison who I found thoroughly amusing. She was not a member of the society instead she was someone who completely condemned it. She was so easy to picture in my head. Her displeasure at the thought of all these people being features in an article is thoroughly upsetting for her. She does not believe that the members are “respectful people” bar two. Juliet also gets great amusement from this. Adelaide Addision was even more comical to me because I think every community has a woman like her in it!
The description of the hardships suffered by the polish prisoners the Germans brought to Guernsey with them was thoroughly horrific to read, but also compelling. As Juliet goes to Guernsey to meet her newly found friends, we see how as she discovers more about their past she is altering and shaping her own future.
It was impossible to put this book down! The book had a lovely rhythm to it. While it moved slowly there were moments where it gathered great momentum. The leisurely pace of the book made it seem effortless to read. There are not many books that I can say I completely love but this most definitely is one of them. I cannot find many faults in it, and even the ones that I do find are tiny and fade into insignificance due to the powerful grip this book has on me. Unfortunately I will not be able to read anymore of Shafer’s books as this was the first and last adult novel by her, the book was completed and published posthumously by her niece Annie Barrows so I will have to content myself with re-reading this over and over again! Definitely recommended!