Sunday, May 13, 2018

Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows

Why did you choose this book? This was a book club selection that several of us had on our ‘to read’ list
When did you read this book? May 2018
Who should read this book? Readers who enjoy books on dysfunctional families and books that make you think.
Source: library ebook
My Rating: ★★½    2½ Stars
Bookclub Rating: ★★★★    4Stars

Here is a synopsis of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society from Goodreads

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 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.

My Review

I had this one on my TBR for a long time. I’d heard good things about it and it was a recurrent selection for various book clubs hosted by our library system, so I knew I wanted to read it. When our book club realized that several of us had the book on our lists, AND that the movie version is set to be released later this summer, we decided to make it one of our 2018 book club selections..

Sadly, after that build-up I really didn’t enjoy the book much. One thing was the writing style, a epistolary novel written as a series of letters between the main character, Juliet, and other characters in the book. While I think this worked great as an introduction to the story, after a while it became tedious and made it difficult to discern between the characters.

That was another issue for me—keeping the characters straight. In particular, it was hard for me to distinguish between Eben and Dawsey for much of the book. There were just too many characters introduced too early for me to keep them straight.

Another problem for me was the slow pace of the story. Had it not been a selection for my book club, I’m sure I would have given up on it. As it was, I didn’t get finished before my book club meeting, but pushed myself to get to the second part of the book. At that point, the pace picked up, the story got more interesting, and I was able to finish that evening. Unfortunately, just when I finally felt like the story got started—it ended!

The book is classified as historical fiction, but it is not historical fiction at its best. I would classify it as ‘period fiction’; set in a particular period. I didn’t really learn much from the book (other than that Guernsey cows really originated in a place called Guernsey) and I wasn’t inspired to learn more about the period. Admittedly, that may be due to the fact that I read the ‘Deluxe Reading Group Addition’ that was well annotated, giving information about people, events and places mentioned in the book. I actually enjoyed the annotations more than the story! However, that probably slowed my reading and made the story appear more disjointed than it was. I’m not sure whether I’d recommend the annotated edition or not, so use your own judgement here!

One thing I did enjoy were some of the quotes about books that most readers will relate to. Here are a couple I liked.

About a visit to the local bookstore...
“always finding the one book I wanted—and then three more I hadn’t known I wanted”

“It was a sad wrench to part with the Selected Essays of Elia. I had two copies and a dire need of shelf-room, but I felt like a traitor selling it”About giving away a favorite book....

In fairness, I do have to mention that, as often happens, my book club rated the book much differently than I did. There were only four of us in attendance, and the ratings were 4, 4.5, and 5. After finishing the book yesterday, I give it a 2.5, for a book club average rating of 4.

You can visit the publisher’s website to learn more about the authors, read an excerpt, or view a reader's guide.

To learn more about Guernsey and the occupation, click here.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a movie based on the book. It released in the UK last month and on Netflix in August. I think it will translate to film well and be one of the rare cases when I enjoy the movie more than the book.You can learn more about the movie here and view the trailer below.

My rating - 2½ Stars and
Book club rating - 4 Stars with ratings from 2½  to 5.

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  1. Oh no, so sorry this one didn't work out for you. I think this has happened to me with several books. Sometimes with such popular books it is almost the case it's going to be hard to live up to expectations. Hopefully your next read will be a much better one!

    1. I agree. The more hype a book gets, the harder it is for it to meet my expectations. I'm interested in seeing the movie. I suspect things will move along more quickly that in the book.