At the conclusion of the second World War, the world is still picking up its pieces. Communications start back up and author Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a man named Dawsey, who found her address in an old book. From there, the two begin to unravel the story of Guernsey’s literary society during the German Occupation of the British island.
Written entirely in letters, this story wouldn’t usually be my first choice. I sometimes find it can be hard to keep up with characters and really see inside their minds in epistolary books, but I am really happy I gave Guernsey and Juliet Ashton a chance. While this book didn’t fully escape the confusion of many letter-writers and receivers, it was a major delight. Not only did it make me want to sit down and write a long letter to everyone I love, but it also warmed my heart and made me want to read more personal accounts of the World Wars. The book offered a robust snapshot of the relationships between people while using nothing but the words they craft for another to read.
The piece of this book I found to be the most rewarding was the way the character’s cared for each other and how this fact served as a throughline for every single letter written or received. As Juliet began to fall in love with Guernsey and vice versa, we, as readers, also quickly fall in love with them, too. The compassion that lives in their community despite the darkness of the Occupation lights a spark of human connection within a reader and it’s wonderful to watch as they each grow closer to each other and the worlds that live within the pages of their books. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is a careful, unusual way to discuss humanity during a time period that is mostly recorded through inhumanity. The author never tip-toed around the Holocaust or denied the evil that ran rampant through Europe during the second World War, but she did shine a spotlight on human’s ability to resist and carry on.
Of course it’s important to note that the book certainly wasn’t perfect. There were times where I thought things were getting too sickly sweet, that the epistolary style failed in its hope of subtle information sharing, or certain character pairings didn’t make a whole lot of sense. However, at the core of this novel is a love for the written word and a fine example of community. I loved the character development throughout and the unusual take on a World War II discussion and memorium can be appreciated.
Overall? I understand why this book is beloved and I, too, found comfort in Guernsey and the human connection that assured this community would survive the Occupation, rebuild, and carry on with a newfound love for books, for strangers-turned-friends, and for potato peel pie.
PUBLICATION DETAILS: Dial Press, May 2009, 978-0385341004, 290 pp. Fiction -> Epistolary