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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie SocietyThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“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.”

Written as a series of letters, this heart-warming story is about the love and magic of literature, and how one book can bring a whole set of strangers together as a family. Juliet, our feisty protagonist, is an intelligent quick-witted journalist who spent the bleak, war-torn years writing a column under a pseudonym. As the war draws to a close, her days of trying to add a bit of comic relief to the horrors of the German bombardment also come to an end. Instead, she casts about for new material and one day receives a letter out of the blue from Guernsey. This unlikely correspondence grows, and begins to shed light on how some of the islanders managed to survive under the German regime thanks to a fake ‘book club’.

What I loved about this book was how easy it was to read and understand each character. The fact that it was written in letter-form (epistolary), did not hinder things like character/ plot development. In fact quite the opposite, the action was always on the go, and the characters all had their own distinct voices. In this seemingly narrow perspective, Schaffer does such a wonderful job of bringing Guernsey to life. I have heard it said that sometimes a person can fall in love with a place before they’ve been there, and that’s exactly what’s happened to me. Schaffer has managed to capture the wild, unrestrained beauty of island life, and the endearing oddities of an enclosed village-like society even though the story is set during a dark historical moment.

I think Juliet was a wonderful protagonist, and I heartily applaud Schaffer for giving her female characters some pluck. And make no mistake, there are a lot of strong, brave and selfless ladies besides Juliet who all contribute to the story. Elizabeth and Isola are probably my favourite characters as they both represent very different yet essential sides of womanhood. This novel is so many things besides a simple historical romance. It explores the concept of friendship, comradeship and sacrifice. It looks at the importance of stories, why we have them and their many functions in our lives. Sometimes a book can offer escape, at other times valuable advice. Sometimes it can even save lives or help dissolve the wall of prejudice between captive and invader. Books are very human objects, and in times of war it is most often that human touch that we most crave.

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