Publisher: Dial Press
Date Published: 2008
Genres: Historical, Literary
Description: “ I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb…. As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all. Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever. Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.
I thought it would be clever to write this review in letter format. But I’m really not that clever. And I’m horrible at maintaining correspondence. Completely horrible. So instead, I’ll write an actual review.
I was looking over my COYER challenge books, and found this to be the only book I was really interested in reading. Plus, it was relatively short. I had heard good things about Guernesy, which is why I downloaded it in the first place. If you aren’t familiar, it’s written entirely in letter format, and is set in post World War II on the channel island of Guernsey. Juliet is an author, looking for some inspiration, when she receives a letter from one of the members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. This sparks a great friendship amongst the characters of the island and Juliet.
What struck me originally when picking up this book was the format. The letters between all of the different characters provide great insight into their inner thoughts. I can only imagine how difficult it might have been to keep all of the correspondence in order to write this book. I often think how will history remember our own times? Through emails and social media? These are not nearly as elegant as letters. I think I’m also a bit jealous of Juliet and all her letters. How wondrous it must be to receive all those letters. And somewhat amazing, given the state of current mail. If I were off in some other country, or town for that matter, I somehow doubt my mail would follow me as well as it does Juliet.
I was immediately taken with the characters themselves. The fortitude of the islanders who survive the German invasion of their island for 5 years. Starvation. Lack of fuel. Threat of imprisonment. The heartache of sending the children away for their own safety. The literary society helped the islanders survive, really. It was their love of books that kept up their spirits in the worst of times. Juliet, as well, was a strong character. She survived the war. But needed the hope that the island could provide to move on from it.
I delighted in how well Guernsey was written. It’s not often that I find myself both laughing and crying in the same book. The novel was obviously well researched, with actual tidbits of WWII threaded throughout the story. It’s always a good sign of a historical novel when I’m interested enough in the topic to do my own research.
That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.
Books, and a love of reading, brought all of the characters together. And as a reader, I can unequivocally agree. Books can bring us together. And I can highly recommend this one to any reader.