Wow, it's been a long time since I read a novel that I absolutely loved and couldn't wait to tell people about. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is one of those rare books.
The book is about an English writer named Juliet who wrote a newspaper column during World War II; it was a somewhat light-hearted column intended to help people keep their spirits up. Now the war is over, and she is tired of writing fluff, but she's also burned out and can't think of a new book topic.
Out of the blue, she receives a letter from a man on Guernsey, one of the islands in the English Channel that was occupied by the Nazis during the war (and consequently cut off from contact with England). He had purchased a used book of essays by Charles Lamb with her address in it, and the book meant so much to him during the war that he wants to read more. The island no longer has a bookstore, so impulsively he writes to ask if she knows of any other books by Lamb.
This leads to a correspondence in which Juliet learns about a literary society that helped many islanders survive the war through the inspiring power of art. She begins to exchange letters with several of the members (the entire novel is told in letters), and as a result, makes friends with a varied group of people, learns about the terrible things that happened on the island during the war, finds a subject for a new book, . . . and even has a romance or two.
Some of the characters are eccentric, but not so many that I wanted to dismiss the book. The letters sound as though they were really written by twenty or so different people. The war stories are serious but not grim or overwhelming. It just felt like a very balanced book, if you know what I mean, and I didn't want to stop reading it. Because it is written as letters, it's a fairly easy read too, yet it doesn't feel fluffy.
Sadly, Mary Ann Shaffer, the woman who wrote the book became very ill with cancer shortly after a publisher accepted the manuscript, and her niece Annie Barrows (also a writer) had to finish the book. Shaffer died, I think before the book made it to print. She was in her 70s and this was her first published work. As a writer who is still struggling to have a novel published, this story hit me hard. And yet, one of the main themes of the novel is the power of art to help people survive difficult times, and that inspires me to want to keep on with my struggle to be published. I loved this novel, and yet it is also fraught with bittersweet significance for me.
In case you couldn't tell, I can't recommend this novel highly enough.
P.S. It has an odd title, doesn't it? Well, I'm not going to explain the potato peel pie part. You'll just have to read the book.