It’s 1946 and author Juliet Ashton can’t think what to write next. Out of the blue, she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams of Guernsey – by chance, he’s acquired a book that once belonged to her – and, spurred on by their mutual love of reading, they begin a correspondence. When Dawsey reveals that he is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, her curiosity is piqued and it’s not long before she begins to hear from other members. As letters fly back and forth with stories of life in Guernsey under the German Occupation, Juliet soon realizes that the society is every bit as extraordinary as its name.
I bought a bundle of books from a well-known online book retailer in part because it was a great deal and in part because it contained this book. I’ve wanted to read it for ages having missed it when our book club read it. It was one of those books everyone seemed to have enjoyed and I didn’t want to miss out! Thankfully I wasn’t disappointed.
Written in the form of letters this novel is the story of Juliet discovering what it was like to live on the island of Guernsey during World War Two. As the Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles to be occupied during the war their perspective is a unique one. I found this book to be jammed full of anecdotes and details that made it all come to life and it was truly fascinating. Never before had I realised that all communication with the mainland was severed so Islanders really didn’t know what was going on (apart from the illegal radios). Their children were evacuated a few days before the German troops arrived and they had no contact at all with them for the duration of the war. I also didn’t know how scarce food became or how Guernsey people were sent to concentration camps if they were caught stepping out of line too far.
But enough of the history lesson! All the stories about life during the war are told to Juliet who is at the heart of the story. Having survived the war in London, writing a column for a newspaper, Juliet is looking for material to write a novel when through a chance letter she begins to correspond with the Islanders, all of whom were members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. What she finds is shocking, touching, humorous and courageous and through the letters Juliet makes friends as well as finding the characters for her next work.
Juliet ends up going to Guernsey to visit the society’s members. Her trip there completely changes her life. I really liked Juliet, she is charming, funny and pretty blunt at times. Her attempts at warding off an unwanted suitor had me smiling.
Juliet also discovers the story of Elizabeth. Elizabeth started (unintentionally) the Literary Society and was later taken to Ravensbruck by the Germans for helping a slave worker. Her story brings together all the tales told by the others in their letters, she is an inspiring character, to those in the book and to us as the reader.
Verdict: I so enjoyed this novel, it is full of information and yet you don’t notice it as you read. It has a fabulous range of characters, people who would never mix apart from these extenuating circumstances. It is realistic but still manages to be gentle, many stories are hideous but written with humour and in a way that is heart-warming. It reminded me again that friendship and courage are both so vitally important in the face of any adversity.
Reviewed by Helen