Everyone seemed to be reading this book a couple of years ago, apart from me! It had never appealed to me before, but recently I’ve been reading a lot of World War II fiction so I thought it was time I gave it a try – and I’m glad I did.
In The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society we meet Juliet Ashton, who has become famous as a result of the witty newspaper column she wrote during the war. When the war is over, Juliet receives an unexpected letter from a man called Dawsey Adams. Dawsey, who lives in Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, tells Juliet about the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a group he and his neighbours had formed to enable them to meet without arousing the suspicion of the German soldiers who occupied the island. Through Dawsey, Juliet corresponds with the other members of the society. They all have their own stories to tell about both literature and wartime Guernsey, so each member writes to Juliet individually to talk about their favourite books and the joys of reading.
Despite the popularity of this book I had somehow managed to avoid hearing very much about it, so I wasn’t aware until I started reading that it was going to be told entirely in the form of letters. At first I was concerned that this wasn’t going to work for me, but I actually thought the use of letters to tell the story was very effective. It meant we were given a wide variety of different narrators and it allowed each of their stories to unfold slowly and gradually through their correspondence.
I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never even thought about what it was like to live in Guernsey during the war when the island was occupied by German troops and effectively cut off from Britain for five years – and I’m glad that, having read this book, I’ve now learned something about it. There are both happy scenes, such as when all the children who had been evacuated from the island came home to Guernsey at the end of the war, and sad ones – people’s pets being put down because there wasn’t going to be enough food for them, for example. And I enjoyed reading how the islanders managed to outwit the German officers who insisted that all livestock should be handed over to them.
This is a lovely, inspiring story of how in times of hardship and tragedy, people can make the best of a bad situation and work together to help each other survive – and even to have fun.