The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
This book was a July 25 Friday Finds. Since then, I have seen many, many mentions of it all over the internet. And I was thrilled to find out it is selling well in my local independent bookstore.
What can I write about this book that is different from all the other reviews out there? Well, I haven't read many of them, so I may indeed repeat something that has already been said. I preferred to wait and read all the accounts when I finished the book. I really, really like to come to a book ready to be surprised and delighted. I read just enough about the story so that I thought it was for me, and I was right.
I left a comment the other morning on An Adventure in Reading in answer to "where is reading taking you this week?" saying "in Guernsey with the letter writers," and it struck me how very many people would know exactly what book I meant. I've not seen anything like this since Jan Karon's first Mitford book. I'm amazed at the groundswell of appreciation and real love for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And how I love that title!
Very, very briefly, it is a story told through letters written in 1946 between a writer in London, and the members of an unusual literary society on the island of Guernsey. If you want more details, you can find them in other book reviews, but just in case you are like me, and don't want to know too much, that's where I'll stop. You may read a long excerpt here to help you decide if you'd like to read it.
In the book, Juliet Ashton writes:
That's what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It's geometrically progressive - all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.
Let's see, what are the "leads" from this book? Well, first and foremost, the essays of Charles Lamb. When I first read of them, I got up and hauled down off the very top shelf one of our college Norton Anthologies. It is sitting open now, waiting for me to spend some time in its pages. Second, Pride and Prejudice. Do I dare admit I've never read it? I have a copy which belonged to my late aunt, so I really should begin. Third, I might give Wuthering Heights another try. The last time I read it, I was living in a dorm, and didn't think much of the writing or the story. And if I weren't already entranced with Agatha Christie, this line about Miss Marple would have lead me to her:
...she is a lady detective in fiction books, who uses all she knows about HUMAN NATURE to figure out mysteries and solve crimes the police can't.
As I read about Lamb's sister, I jumped up and came to the computer to look in my Book Ideas folder. I just knew her story sounded familiar. And I found it - from the old, beloved, much missed A Common Reader catalogue:
It was the action of a madwoman: on September 22, 1796, 31-year-old Mary Lamb, sister of the essayist Charles Lamb, murdered their mother with a carving knife. Though Mary would spend the rest of her life in and out of madhouses, she also enjoyed calm and happy stretches living in "double singleness" with Charles, her days occupied with reading, entertaining a circle of friends (William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge among them), and writing the popular "Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare." Susan Tyler Hitchcock's "Mad Mary Lamb: Lunacy & Murder in Literary London" is an accomplished, compassionate telling of a most unusual life-story.
Mad Mary Lamb by Susan Tyler Hitchcock
There is an internet page about Guernsey, much like the encyclopedia pages I delighted in as a child. I didn't always know what things like textiles and commodities were, but somehow the words were magic and other-worldly to me. I loved reading all those statistics.
And here is a newspaper site. For a little island, there sure are a lot of cars. After living in this book, in a perhaps idealized, or at least a long-ago Guernsey, it was kind of a shock to read the current news, and see that a lot of years have passed since 1946. I don't think I could bear the cars or the population. BBC News reports that "Guernsey has 62,000 people, which is 900 people per square kilometer, more than twice that for England - which has been named the most crowded country in Europe."
There are several you tube videos, here - sort of like home movies, but still a fun look at Guernsey today, one of them a little drive in the rain accompanied by James Blunt on the radio. :<) Click on the right side arrows to go through them. A couple things I wondered about as I read along in the book: 1. if young women reading the book will name a new baby, Dawsey. I think it would work for a boy or a girl. I'd never heard it before, and I quite love it; and 2. if Guernsey will become a reader's mecca, as Yorkshire did after the James Herriot books and Savannah did after Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I certainly found myself longing to visit, but I'm quite sure the Guernsey I want to see is 62 years old now. I have loved many books over the years, but I have been in love with only a few. Like an older person thinking love has passed her by, I didn't think there would be any others to add, but there you go. I'm definitely in love again with one of the most beautiful, interesting, warm, informative books I've ever read. You may ask, what are the others? In alphabetical order by title:
Around the House and in the Garden; and Paths of Desire by Dominique Browning
Bachelor Brothers Bed & Breakfast by Bill Richardson
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield (Juliet's humor reminded me of the Provincial Lady's)
Hens Dancing; and Summertime by Raffaela Barker
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther
My Dear Aunt Flora by Elizabeth Cadell
The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith
The Mrs. Tim books by D.E. Stevenson