Monday, September 21, 2009

When a book spends over a year on best-seller lists, I'm always curious to find out if it is worth all the hype. A while ago, I checked out the audio book of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows to see what all the fuss was about. I can emphatically say that this is not a book that should have been made into an audio book. The story is told in the form of letters between the characters, so if you aren't paying extremely close attention ALL THE TIME, it is impossible to remember which character was writing the letter, and which character was the recipient. I had to give up on the audio book before it got very far.

We recently decided to start a book club at the library where I work, and due to its extreme popularity, we chose Guernsey as our first book. So I had to read it! I'm sorry to say that I wasn't as enthralled with it as I'd hoped to be. The main drawback is that it is just too treacly sweet for words. Every character is just too sweet, kind and accommodating for words. My teeth ached with the gooey-ness of it all.

The story mainly concerns Juliet, who earned her fame as an author of humorous newspaper columns published under the name of Izzy Bickerstaff during World War II. After the war, finding that her London flat has been bombed, er . . . flat, she grows increasingly distressed at the gray, depressed feeling in London and is floundering about for an idea for a new book. At about this time, she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a resident of the island of Guernsey. He has bought a book that previously belonged to Juliet (who apparently had the maddening habit of defacing books by writing in them and then discarding them). He wants her help in getting more books since Guernsey is still suffering from wartime deprivations.

Thus begins Juliet's correspondence with the members of the Literary Society on Guernsey. It seems that everyone on the island cannot wait to write to Juliet, and she responds in kind. Through the islanders' letters, Juliet learns about their suffering and resilience under German occupation. Eventually, Juliet decides to go to Guernsey to write a book about the people and their experiences.

I was very interested to read more about Guernsey, especially the information about the wartime occupation. It is a place you don't hear much about, so I appreciated having it brought to life. The characters, however, were basically all cardboard one-dimensional characters: the quiet, dignified farmer; the wacky woman forever brewing "potions"; the wise matriarch; and the saintly Elizabeth. There are a few "baddies," but they aren't given much space in this sunny narrative. Even the Nazi occupiers are seen sympathetically (for the most part).

Although the story could have been more gripping, perhaps if told as a straight narrative, the "sweetness and light" aspect of the characters got old quickly. I'm glad Guernsey is seeing an upswing in popularity from the book, but I just wish it had been more interesting.

Final Verdict for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: Two Gherkins, for being an interesting idea with a poor execution


Expat mum said...

I have this sitting next to my bed and for some reason I'm never able to get beyond the first page. Hmmm.

Lisanne624 said...

Yes, the book is really hard to figure out at first. I had a difficult time keeping everyone straight! It eventually makes sense, even if it is a bit too sweet!

Sheila (bookjourney) said...

This one is still on my shelf and I am looking forward to reading it... sweet characters eh? I know what you mean they are all a little too wonderful.... should be an interesting read.

Great review - I appreciate your honest take on books

Lisanne624 said...

It will be interesting to hear your take on the book, Sheila, when you read it. Our discussion at work is this week, so maybe my view of the book will soften a bit if everyone else loved it. Maybe they can give me some insight that I somehow missed!

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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