The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was an incredibly popular book in 2008 ish that appeared to be pretty much everywhere, and seemed to spawn a trend for ‘Society’ books, ‘The Ladies Cake and Tea and Swimming Society’ etc etc etc. I bought a second-hand copy I think maybe four or five years ago, but it has sat on my shelves untouched (along with about 200 others) since.
I read this book after a rather stressful couple of weeks. My life at the moment seems a succession of things that I have to do, rather than want to do, and emotionally I have been a bit of a mess. Watching too many gruesome crime dramas, having to tear my mind in half every few days to fit in another thing to think about, and spending too much time on my own have led to me being a bit of a wreck. This book, this wonderful little book, has made me glad again.
Set in London and Guernsey the year after the Second World War, written in a series of letters between the various characters, the simplicity but loveliness of the writing combined with the poignant context of the time and the setting produce a not overly sentimental, but witty and warm celebration of reading, and readers and communities coming together in times of hardship.
Juliet, the writer looking for inspiration for her new book, who is randomly contacted by a Guernsey Islander who finds her address written inside a second-hand copy of Charles Lamb (something I would love to do), is one half of the heart of the novel. The second half is Elizabeth, the woman who founded the Literary Society. Many reviews go on and on about Elizabeth, but Juliet for me is the reason to love the book.
I just love her. I want to be her. She is feisty, she is independent and she is brave. She dumps a man for making her get rid of her books. She is so incredibly funny. And she is loving and warm and real and human. God, I wish I was like her, I wonder if I would be, given the right circumstance (ie being able to afford it).
Set as it is just after a war, and the occupation of the Island home of many of the characters parts of this book are very very sad, and could be difficult to read. I had a good cry several times throughout the two days it took to read it (and if I wasn’t in the middle of a rather large craft project and dissertation and therefore limited in my reading time I could have read this in a night) and felt cathartic and whole again afterwards. What a great great shame it is that the author passed so soon after publication, I would love to be able to read more or her work.
The title is fanciful and the genre is a bit twee, but sometimes that’s OK. I heartily recommend anyone who saw this book seven years ago but never got round to it to save it for when you’ve had a really shitty day, and then wrap yourself in it like a homemade blanket and sob.