Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Review: - Mary Ann Shaffer – “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”

Publ: 2008
My own copy
ISBN: 978 0 7475 8919 8
Genre: Fiction; wartime fiction;
Pages: 245p
Recommended by Nan
Rating: ***** *****

What led you to pick up this book?
Nan described this book as follows:-
“I have loved many books over the years, but I have been in love with only a few. Like an older person thinking love has passed her by, I didn't think there would be any others to add, but there you go. I'm definitely in love again with one of the most beautiful, interesting, warm, informative books I've ever read. How could I resist such a recommendation and I bought the book a while ago but have only just got around to reading it.

Describe the plot without giving anything away.
Written in the form of letters this tells the story of Juliet Ashton, a successful author, whose curiosity is piqued by a letter from Guernsey in January 1946. A local man has by chance acquired a copy of a book she once owned and, in passing, mentions the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society of which he had been a member during the German Occupation. Anxious to find out more about the society, Juliet corresponds with its various members and gradually gets drawn in to being fascinated by the whole occupation and the isolation / treatment of the residents during the War. The books read by some of the club’s members feature throughout (but not overwhelmingly). Oh yes, and there’s the odd love story thrown in.

What did you think of the characters and style?
I love letters and diaries and as a fiction format it works well. Mary Anne Shaffer makes the characters so believable that one keeps having to remind oneself that whilst these people may be typical of some of the Guernsey Islanders during the War – they are fictional. I feel as though I have made friends with them thanks to Juliet.

What did you like most about the book?
I love the whole thing – there’s nothing I didn't like. I am always fond of books that are informative as well as enjoyable and this was both.

Thoughts on the book jacket / cover.
The jacket design by David Mann adds to the book and creates just the right mood.

Would I recommend it?

(quoting from Charles Lamb’s Letters:-) “Buz, buz, buz, bum, bum, bum, wheeze, wheeze, wheeze, fen, fen, fen, tinky, tinky, tinky, cr’annch! I shall certainly cxome to be condemned at last. I have been drinking too much for two days running. I find my moral sense in the last stage of consumption and my religion getting faint.”

(quoting from Cee Cee Meredith’s A-tramp in Guernsey:-) “The waters: azure, emerald, silver-laced, when they are not as hard and dark as a bag of nails.”

That’s what I love about reading one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you on to another book, and another bit there will lead you on to a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.

Juliet said “Well, he shouldn’t have written, ‘His eye is on the sparrow’ – what good was that? Did He stop the bird dying? Did He just say, ‘Oops’? It makes God sound like He’s off bird-watching when real people need Him.”

Men are more interesting in books than they are in real life.

My farm is a lot of work, and I did not want to spend my time reading about people who never were, doing things they never did.

...visitors said “Life goes on.” What nonsense, I thought, of course it doesn’t. It’s death that goes on; Ian is dead now and will be dead tomorrow and next year and for ever.

...a bookcase that has followed me about like a faithful dog wherever I have moved.

Apparently they sat up late talking last night. Isola doesn’t approve of small talk and believes in breaking the ice by stamping on it.

MARY ANN SHAFFER was born in 1934 in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Her jobs including being an editor, librarian and working in bookshops. She became interested in Guernsey while visiting London in 1976. she flew out to the Island and was temporarily stranded by the weather , in the process coming across a book ‘Jersey under the Jackboot’. Many years later, urged on by her own literary club, Mary Ann wrote this, her first and only novel. It has already been published in 13 countries. Sadly Mary Ann died in February 2008 and the proof reading and final publication was carried out by a niece.


  1. this is on my to buy list...which gets forever longer and will never be finished, ever.

  2. Glad you liked it. Definitely one of my favorite reads this year. I have never seen the cover you have. I like it a lot.

  3. Christine Draperi10 March 2011 at 11:24

    Je l'ai commencé le matin et fini dans le soirée. C'est vraiment un livre superbe: bien écrit, bien documenté, à la fois grave et drôle.
    J'y ai bien reconnu le charme de Guernesey et de ses habitants :))
    Je vais maintenant le prêter à l'amie qui m'avait fait décourir "Pourquoi j'ai mangé mon père" de Roy Lewis ( What we Did to Father ).


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