Monthly Archives: March 2016

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – A Review

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows


This one came highly recommended by friends. One of the readers said she wanted to go settle in Guernsey by the time she was through with the book. That thought impressed me. The book  did have the most intriguing title. It was a book about book-lovers, I thought I’d like that. And so before I knew it I was at Amazon placing my order.

I came away with mixed feelings.

The story

We follow the story through a string of letters that go back and forth between Juliet Ashton, a quirky World War journalist turned writer, and a group of people who lived in Guernsey during World War II. The war has just ended and a book once owned by Juliet lands up in the hands of Dawsey Adams, a resident of Guernsey. The book has her name and address and the new owner writes to her asking her for the name and address of a London bookshop so he could order books. Dawsey belongs to a Literary Society called the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Intrigued by the name Juliet sets up a correspondence with Dawsey and then with each of its members. She is scouting for ideas for her new book and sensing a story in Guernsey, she travels there and finds much more than inspiration for her book.

What I liked

The book written in an epistolatory form (That’s what you call a narrative expressed through letters) was å first for me. I enjoyed the style though it took a little getting used to but then it was refreshing in its difference. I found myself waiting for the letters to come in. I loved the eclectic bunch of characters and their reading quirks.

I liked the joie de vivre that Juliet exudes. I like how she slowly gets to know the people of Guernsey through the letters and I liked the quiet contrast of Dawsey’s character.

I’ve said it before, I never can have enough of life during WWII. The book does give an account of life in Guernsey under German occupation – the shortages, the hunger, the hiding, the heartbreak of separation, the dread of being caught during night curfews.. all of it.

What I didn’t like

My first impression of the book was ‘How sweet is this’ and that ended up being my biggest problem too – it was far far too sweet; sweet in a simplistic, superficial kind of way. There is barely a cloud on the horizon. You know way before the end that things will fall into place. Everyone is just so nice. I like happy endings but only when they come after a decent plot and some twists and turns.

Also, the ending: as usual the ending is way too predictable and completely unbelievable. Those aren’t contradictory. Consider this – Juliet – a fairly high-profile writer based in London, being wooed by a flamboyant suitor (and enjoying it too), used to nights of fine dining and dancing in pretty clothes should give it all up and settle down in a quiet village with a man who unloads ships for a living. Romantic? Sure. Plausible? Hardly!

It seems unlikely that Juliet would enjoy the quiet life forever. Forever is a long time.

However, if you like a fresh, frothy, witty, easy read with snippets of the second World War you’ll like this one.

That distance between reading and talking

On a reading group on Facebook someone shared this quote here:

Books - Copy

If you’re a reader you’ll know it – that feeling of rediscovering a word when you hear it spoken out loud.

The thing with reading is that it remains largely a solitary endeavour. There aren’t enough book clubs or reading societies where you get to speak out about your favourite books or characters. And so you read the words and pronounce them a certain way in your head. You do it over and over again till you use them with the familiarity of old friendship. And then one day you hear them spoken out in a whole different manner and it comes as a bit of a shock – like a new person stepping out of a friend’s body. Some are hiding way so innocuously you don’t even notice them till they slip out of your mouth one day.

Sometimes it comes from beginning to read early – when you’re not conscious of each word you read. I never could get words like ‘Mademoiselle’, the French teacher in Enid Blyton’s St Clares and lacrosse, the game the girls played, quite right.

And sometimes it is pure laziness. I look at a word and know what it is and that’s enough. I’m too intrigued by the story to really bother pronouncing it even in my head. I mean, it doesn’t really matter, does it? For instance in the Harry Potter series I never pronounced McGonagall till I watched the film. Oh and did you know that the ‘t’ in Voldemort is silent? Well Rowling said so herself .  Films on books are quite a blessing. They do help us get it right.

There are scores of other tricky words – words from other languages (chalet) or names of places (Brighton, Houston, Nice). And there are more – Colonel and Lieutenant, Corps, genre, epitome and chutzpah and of course marijuana and mojito. Lord don’t even get me started on the food names – Tortillas, Jalapeños … that whole bunch.

The thing is – it doesn’t really matter till you open your mouth. In any case I prefer a well-read person to a well-spoken one. A combination would of course be just perfect.

So which are the words you’ve picked up from books and pronounced all wrong?

To love a bookworm

Beat About The Book - fiction

Shall we go watch a movie today?’ I ask my best buddy, my better half, my wife. “Please not today,” she says making puppy eyes at me, “I need to finish this book …”

Aaaargh.. not again!

“…. It’s about this bunch of people who make up a literary society called the Potato Peel Pie society.. isn’t that the quaintest name ever? It was during WWII….’ On she goes talking animatedly, words tumbling out faster than I can comprehend.

We don’t stand a chance – the movie and I. The old enemy had struck again. Her books!

As I pick up the TV remote listlessly past injustices come flashing back. I remember the time we went on a holiday high up in the mountains. I was dreaming of scouting the hills, of long walks and sweet conversations, of taking her soft hand in mine and strolling along the emerald slopes. “How lovely is the mountain breeze”, she had said rolling out her mat on the grass. Even as she pulled me down beside her she was wandering off into the grounds of Pemberly.

Then there was the time I wanted to explore Delhi’s Red Fort but she had much rather be at Hogwarts. “Do you know they have moving staircases and ghosts floating around and portraits that actually talk? Can anything match that?” Nope Shah Jahan certainly hadn’t thought of it. And so I picked at peanuts while she told me about pumpkin pie.

Then one day I got tickets to this amazing stand up comic show. “Have you heard of Blandings? she had said. That’s where we should be. The things that happen…. wheels within wheels”, she had said laughter bubbling up like a clear spring on a summer day.

I was beginning to realise the power of the enemy. I had to do something drastic, something awesome to draw her away.

Ah I’ll take her to Goa, thought I. Some romance – that’s what we need, I said to myself, drifting away into a dream of lazy days in the sun, candlelight dinners on the beach and castles in the sand. That’s what my dreams turned out to be – castles in the sand – for all she wanted to do was put out her darned towel again, lean against me and lose herself in the dusty farmsteads of Drogheda.

The last straw came on the day of my office party. She agreed to come along though she knew not a soul. I’d lost her in the crowd. Worried, I’d called her on her phone. “Where are you?” I had queried. “In the parking lot,” she answered sobbing. My head buzzed with a hundred panicked thoughts as I ran to her. The sight of her tear-stained face as she stood there book in hand, squeezed the breath out of me. “Why did he have to die?” she sobbed on my best party shirt. “Who? What? Who died?” “He shouldn’t have left Holly. Oh it’s the most beautiful story,” she was smiling through her tears. PS: I love you, said her book.

That was the day I knew I’d lost the battle. I had since then, contented myself with being her pillow while she read, wearing eye masks to bed and gifting her books and more books for I’d do anything to see that glorious smile break out on her face. And I loved to hear her talk about people and places, wars and romances, friendships and betrayals. I tried to strike a friendship with the enemy, the books but my defeat rankled still.

It was books!! Always her books… stealing her away from me.

And then…

….. the baby came along – hers and mine. ‘Now I’ll see!’ thought I rubbing my hands in glee. Aren’t new mums just the busiest? ‘There’ll be no time for books. It’ll be me, she, the baby and nobody else.’

One bright sunny morning, I entered the room with a bottle of milk and I found her with the baby in her lap, picture book in hand. She opened the book before my dismayed eyes….. and the baby kicked it away. A secret grin spread across my face, “Way to go little one,” I whispered. Unfazed, she reached out for the book, opened it again and again and yet again. She’s stubborn, this girl of mine but so’s the little one.

It’s in the genes, I think delightedly. My genes.

But what’s this! That bus on the book has caught his eye. ‘Da da da,’ he says tapping it with one chubby fist.

Drat, those genes! All hers!

I look on, helplessness changing to fascination as my gaze shifts from baby to mum. I watch her watching him, face shining as she points to the picture and softly hums ‘The wheels of the bus..’ .

I find my resentment melting away. Years and years of resentment washes fully and finally away, with that one sight. That’s the girl I fell in love with. Stubborn, passionate, delightful, enchanting, bookworm forever. I reach out for her and pull her in a hug – bottle, book, baby and all.