Classic review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
"The Jane Austen Book Club" meets "84 Charing Cross Road."
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As the letters fly back and forth over the Channel, Juliet becomes more and more invested in the Society and almost as desperate as they are to learn what happened to Elizabeth. She’s been feeling adrift since the war ended. Her flat was bombed during the Blitz, and she’s between jobs. During the war, she wrote a humorous newspaper column that’s been turned into a book called “Izzy Bickerstaff Goes to War.” But she has no idea what to write now.Skip to next paragraph
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At first, I was afraid I’d stumbled into “Bridget Jones: The War Years” (especially when Juliet hurls a teapot at a reporter early on). Happily, the novel I was most frequently reminded of was Helene Hanff’s “84, Charing Cross Road” – and anything that brings that lovely book to mind is well worth recommending.
Juliet’s ready wit is enchanting, as are the discussion of authors from Catullus to Shakespeare. Sometimes, the two even mingle, as when Juliet wrangles a publisher’s address out of a flower delivery boy: “I hope you don’t sack him; he seems a nice boy and he really had no alternative – I menaced him with ‘Remembrance of Things Past.’ ”
There is the occasional false note. At one point, Juliet is offered enough money for writing one newspaper article for The Times to “keep her in flowers for a year.” (Sure, maybe if she doles out one dandelion per week.) And it’s hard to believe how little condemnation Elizabeth comes in for when she falls in love with a German doctor.
However, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” is a labor of love, and it shows on almost every page. According to her biography, Mary Ann Shaffer became interested in the occupation of the Channel Islands in 1976, when she was stranded on a fogbound Guernsey and read “Jersey Under the Jackboot” while stuck at the airport. Her niece, Annie Barrows, is a children’s author who helped her aunt finish the novel when Shaffer’s health began to decline. Shaffer died earlier this year, and it’s sad to think that someone who apparently treasured books so much will never see her own on a bookstore shelf.
But readers will be grateful it found its way there, nonetheless.
Yvonne Zipp regularly reviews fiction for the Monitor.