The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society
I first came across The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society when I was working in Angus & Robertson in Chatswood. It was a new release and I remember reading the back of it and feeling immediately drawn to the main character, Juliet Ashton. She is a witty writer stumped by a sever case of writer’s block. Out of the blue, she receives a letter from one Dawsey Adams of Guernsey – by chance he’s acquired a book Juliet once owned – and, emboldened by their mutual love of books, they begin a correspondence and she is introduced to the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and its members (a colourful bunch). Juliet, emboldened and inspired by their letters opts to visit the island of Guernsey, a trip that completely turns her life upside-down.
I don’t know how I didn’t realise it before, as I flicked through the book many times during my shifts at Angus & Robertson, but the book’s story is told in its entirety through letters. Normally, I steer extremely clear of books that aren’t comprised of simple chapters – the odd letter here and there I don’t mind, but I have never been able to stick with a novel that isn’t just plain ol’ storytelling. Until now.
Not only am I madly in love with the edition that I have of Mary Ann Shaffer’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society which I picked up second-hand from Gertrude & Alice in Bondi, but I really enjoyed this story and the way it was told – at least for the first 60-70% of the book..
Overall, I think that the book was intriguing, interesting and really beautifully compiled. Readers are actually able to derive a lot of detail from the letters which I wasn’t expecting, and the story flows really well. For me though, I need all the other text around the letters and the dialogue to really grasp a story. I have always been told that I am a very descriptive writer, and maybe that is what I subconsciously look for in a book as well. I love reading about the intricacies of an English garden, or the sound of waves crashing against a cliff face or in-depth descriptions of the way someone looks. I felt that that was missing in this book. The voice of a narrator allows for unbiased descriptions, allowing for the reader to completely control the imagery the words evoke for them whereas I found that I couldn’t picture things as they were described when it was with the voice of one of the characters. Towards the end of the book I also found that I was skipping letters from the characters whose storylines I found boring.. which isn’t a great sign.
I won’t end on a negative note though. I really loved the character of Juliet and how sassy she was. I found that I could relate to her whilst also wanting some of her traits to be my own. I also found myself very invested in her relationships with the men around her, and loved that I didn’t know who she was going to end up with. I also really want to acknowledge how different this book is, it is unlike anything I have ever read before and that deserves mentioning. For a book that had a lot of things working against it for me personally (letter form, historical setting, references to war – none of which I enjoy reading about), The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society was a beautifully written book, and I want to comment on the ending, but I won’t for fear of ruining it for those of you want to read it.