July 2, 2009
Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary AnnSchaffer and Annie Barrows
I was severely sceptical of this book when it first came out, for three main reasons: because of all the hoopla, because it was written by two authors, and because I thought that the title was, besides being unwieldy, extremely dumb -- all of which give me the willies. But I finally cracked, and I bought a copy and read it, and I have to admit that it charmed me utterly.
For those of you still under the rock that I just left, TGLAPPPS is an epistolary novel set in England and Guernsey, just after the second world war. Juliet Ashton is a writer who has just published a collection of humourous newspaper columns written during the war, Izzy Bickerstaff Goes to War, and who is relieved to finally be discarding the Izzy pseudonym. While touring the country and flailing around looking for something new to write about, she receives a letter from a Guernsey man who found her name and address in a second-hand book he adores. This spawns further correspondence with other Guernsey residents, a trip to said island, and an eventual happy ending for all and sundry.
As some readers have already pointed out, the story does derail about midway through the novel. What starts as an exploration of life on Guernsey during the Nazi occupation, and some great talk about books and their value, shifts into a fairly straightforward love story. Which is unexpected, but ... still fine? It makes the overall narrative path seem perhaps a bit ill-thought-out, but the love story is just as charming as the occupied Guernsey stuff, and so I am satisfied.
This may be a feature of the dual-author situation that I mentioned. Mary-Ann Schaffer wrote the bulk of the story before falling seriously ill; it was finished and edited by her niece, Annie Barrows, an author in her own right. Although I obviously was not privy to their writing process, I might speculate that the mid-process author-switch had a significant impact on the way that the story unfolds. Or, heck, I don't know, maybe Schaffer and Barrows just got tired of their first storyline. Doesn't really matter.
The great strength of this novel is the writing and characterization. Everyone's so English and clever and likable, and they're always dashing off charming notes and letters to one another -- makes me want to sit down with some stationery and have a go at it. The Guernsey islanders are well-rounded without being caricatures (well, except perhaps for Miss Adelaide Addison), and Juliet herself is absolutely sweet. TGLAPPS is a charming novel and excellent reading for summer.