Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Societyby Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I have a friend who gives me book recommendations from time to time. I'll admit that I actually don't take book recommendations willing, when someone tells me about a book they're reading and how much I'd be certain to love it I usually smile blandly and nod and say something like, "I'm sure--maybe I'll check to see if the library has a copy" or another equally ambiguous statement.

You see I don't trust too many people when it comes to books. If I see a movie that I don't like I just figure that I've wasted an hour or two of my time and that the odds were against it being a great production anyway, seeing that so many bad movies make it to theaters, but a book is a considerable investment. Hours, days, maybe even weeks. It's very difficult for me to put a book down, I have this compulsion to finish it as if it's a plate of that nasty green bean casserole from my childhood and my mother is hovering overhead telling me to clean my plate, that it's good for me.

So if I get into a book and it's not holding up its end of the bargain I have a hard time actually signing the divorce papers and I find myself at the end of a miserable relationship wondering why I didn't cut bait ages ago. I just can't take that kind of emotion and waste.

However, I have known this friend since we were children and in the last five years I've been able to get to know her well and she's intelligent, interesting and a thinking person. You know the kind I mean--someone who has thoughts and opinions and reasons for why she may or may not do something. In short, a book she reads is one that already has a foot in the door with me.

She showed up one day with this book in her hand, gesturing with it as she talked, and saying how I must read it--she was sure I would like it. If it had been someone else I might have flipped through it casually, skimming key paragraphs as if I was trying to fake it through a pop quiz, then returned it with a thank you but instead I found myself taking it with me on my ceremonial parking-lot-waits at the school while Spencer had ski practice.

It's really a charming book. Charming because it's British, charming because it's epistolary (correspondence from one character to another) and charming because of its post World War II setting. It feels as if you're sitting down to tea and overhearing the characters at the next table as they tell their stories and laugh together so genuinely that you strain to hear every word.

The book follows Juliet Ashton who is a writer that stumbles into a correspondence with people on Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands and the only place in England to have been occupied by the Germans during the war. The islanders are recuperating from years of privation and are very willing to make her acquaintance and share their stories which, of course, inspires her writing.

Yes it's completely predictable, slightly formulaic and the characters are all stock. If you've seen a BBC production of any of the Miss Marple mysteries (or any other English country drama) then you already know the staples you can expect to find. But that doesn't mean it's not enjoyable. I happen to like Miss Marple mysteries, thank you very much.

It's an easy and a quick read. I think it took me three or four ski practices to get through it, not counting one ski meet, and it reminds me of other classics in the genre on this side of the Atlantic such as Cold Sassy Tree or Fried Green Tomatoes. Homey, down-to-earth and full of little fun characters waltzing in and out of the narrative with all their eccentricities waving in the breeze.

So if you've got an afternoon without any obligations, pull out a blanket and some cocoa and give it a read. Don't let it put you off that Stephanie Meyer raved about how she loved it (that's what my teen daughter told me after I'd read it and thank goodness I didn't know that before I picked it up or I may never have cracked the cover--an approval from Stephanie Meyer is only one step above a spot on Oprah's book list in my opinion). You'll love it. I'm quite sure of it--take my friend's word for it.

Sponsored by Annette Lyon, whose new novel Band of Sisters is now in print. Annette is also working to help families of deployed servicemen in the Flat Daddy Project in connection with the release of her book. See her website for more details.

28 comments:

Chrissy Johnson said...

This is only sort of related, but Elizabeth Berg has some interesting things to say (quite real and non-gushing-thank-you-very-much) about being on the Oprah list in the current issue of Writer's Market. Her point is of course you say yes when the Oprah people contact you, but the reality and the implications of that dang sticker aren't always as gossamer. The readers aren't now buying the author's work, of course, they're buying that sticker because Oprah told them to, etc. etc. I laughed when the sticker was on Steinbeck's East of Eden - like Oprah really had this new, amazing, undiscovered work of literature to share...hmph.

Melissa said...

My mother-in-law gave me this book to read awhile back, and I devoured it. It's now one of my favorites.

The Dunns said...

It sounds wonderful. I think I'll see if my library has a copy. (ha-ha)

And I totally agree on the Oprah book club thing (or Oprah-anything, for that matter). That would make for an interesting, potentially very controversial post!

Flea said...

A friend recently recommended this one to me and for the life of me I couldn't remember the name. Thank you!

NorahS said...

I finished this book last weekend. It was a fun read. Lightweight but entertaining. Sometimes that's enough.

MRMacrum said...

You know Oprah has spies out here. Shh.

Janelle said...

My ward did this for book group last Summer, but I didn't have time to pick it up before going out of town, so I didn't read it. I did go to the book group meeting, however, and everyone raved about it and how great it was, and I've been hearing about it ever since then, from different sources.

thediaperdiaries said...

I concur. Really enjoyed this book!!

mmclaughlin said...

I read this book about a year and a half ago (when it first came out in hardcover), and I loved it! I've recommended it to everyone since. Glad you liked it too!

debra said...

I loved this book. My mother-in-law was an English war bride and remembers the German occupation of Guernsey.

Scribbit said...

So I guess this means that you have all sorts of good opinions to take on this book. It should show you I'm not off my rocker :)

And Chrissy--that's interesting. I remember when she put Anna Karenina on her list and I kind of rolled my eyes. Because Tolstoy needed the Oprah Bump.

I'd bet you $20 she doesn't even pick the book herself, I'm sure it's a staffer who now checks very carefully to see if there's any controversy that could possibly arise from the selection.

Suzi Dow said...

My only comment is one should sip Earl Grey tea, with milk, rather than cocoa ;-)

Lei said...

It's on my nightstand right now! SInce you are taking recommendations... ;)... I am finishing up The Knitting Circle and have really enjoyed it.

Mirien said...

I liked it, too, even if I did check it out from the library. We own lots of children's books but very few adult ones. What does that say about me? That I rarely ever desire to read a book twice, and that I refuse to buy more bookshelves.

Anonymous said...

I read this book in one day! I loved it!

Laura said...

Ooooh! I have this sitting in my drawer waiting for my travels to start next week so I can read it! I'm saving it and I'm saving HARD!! Can't wait!

Carinne said...

What's the mystique with Oprah anyway? She's just a dictator of the entertainment world.

Heather said...

ooh, another to add to the list. thanks.

Amber M. said...

I also loved this book. It is cute, quirky, and worth every moment it took to read it.

Shelly @ Life on the Wild Side said...

I loved this book! I got totally engrossed in it too. Since then my daughter has read it (she loved it too) and now another friend is reading it. A good book to share.

SAH in Suburbia said...

Loved this book!!!!!

Daisy said...

I thoroughly enjoyed the book!

Amateur Steph said...

The title almost made me pass this book up, but it was sitting at my mom's house and I picked it up and started reading it.
I loved it.
Good recommendation!

J at www.jellyjules.com said...

I wasn't interested in the least in this book. Then a good friend said it might be her favorite book in a good long while, and I received a gift card to a book store in exchange for cat sitting for a neighbor, then I went to that book store, and they had this book as the "Walnut Creek Reads" book. How could I say no? The title sucks. The book was wonderful. I really enjoyed it, and have recommended it a few times since then.

My step mom and I have similar taste in books, so I asked her if she had read it. (Thinking maybe I would get it for her as a gift, I liked it that much.) She said yes, she had just read it, it had been so highly recommended to her that she forgave the stupid title. And she loved it, too.

Have you read "The Red Tent"? It has nothing whatsoever to do with this book or this subject, but it's another book that my step-mom and I both adored, that was a really, really good read. Not *quite* as breezy and fun as this one (if any book about world war II could be breezy and fun), but awesome.

Motherboard said...

I absolutely LOVED this book! I loved how each persons voice was real, distinct and even sassy!

CountessLaurie said...

I am like you - once I pick up a book, I will try to finish it, even if I am hating it. Then I berate myself for wasting my time...

But I will give this one a try if you say so :-)

Laurel Nelson said...

I read that book too and enjoyed it as well. :) I think it's becoming one of those books where once you read it suddenly EVERYONE is reading it or has read it or wants to read it. I had that happen a few years ago when I read "The Life of Pi" by Yan Martel (also a good one).

dancing_lemur said...

I enjoyed the book for exactly all the reasons you said.

Also, I used to have that same compulsion to finish every book I started, but I eventually got over it. I decided life is too short to read crappy books when there are so many good ones out there. Also, there was that time I figured out that I could skim books for my English major classes and still write A papers. So there's that.