Review | The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

An entertaining, very well-written piece of historical fiction. 4/5.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

What it’s about (as always, click on the cover image to go to the book’s Goodreads page):

January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb…

My take:

This is a very interesting, well-written book. There are many reasons why its impressive:

  1. Almost the entire book is a series of fictional letters written by at least ten different characters. And yet, each first-person voice is distinct. You can easily distinguish between the characters whose unique personalities all shine through in the way they express themselves in writing.
  2. Not only are they singular, but the majority of the voices are highly likeable. You warm quickly to the members of the Literary Society and their various foibles.
  3. There is not a scrap of fat on this book. It’s quite short at just under 250 pages, but I didn’t feel it was a page too long or short. It’s the perfect length. This is becoming such a rarity among the books I read, I felt the need to mention it!
  4. The book tells various stories about what it was like to live on Guernsey during the Second World War when the island was occupied by German forces. I knew very little about this subject before, and I thought it was handled sensitively and provided fascinating insights into the islanders’ different reactions to their predicament.
  5. While there are some sombre moments (this is a book about WWII, I don’t think anyone would want it to be an out-and-out comedy), there are also a few moments which made me smile. Particularly the accounts of one of the characters dumping her boyfriends – very funny 🙂
  6. The book has managed to succeed and win world-wide acclaim despite having one of the most cumbersome titles I have ever come across! I still struggle to remember it and only managed to read it because I kept seeing it pop up on various blogs and I had the sense to put it on my Goodreads TBR.

So why haven’t you given it 5/5 stars?

I’ve struggled to come up with solid reasons why I haven’t given this 5 stars. I can only say that while I liked the book very much, I didn’t love it. Perhaps I didn’t develop a sufficiently strong attachment to Juliet, the book’s main narrator? [SPOILER] Or maybe it was because the character who is the so-called “centre” or heart of the story – Elizabeth – remains absent? And I suppose I didn’t find it truly gripping or consuming…

However, 4/5 is still very good! I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction – you’re sure to enjoy it.

If you are a historical fiction fan, you might be interested in my reviews of The Last Runaway and Remarkable Creatures, both by Tracy Chevalier, and The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters.

 Claire Huston / Art and Soul

18 thoughts on “Review | The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

    • If you like historical fiction, particularly WWII fiction, you’ll like this. It’s very touching and ultimately optimistic, although it doesn’t gloss over the grimmer aspects of the occupation. I wish I knew why it didn’t grip me more than it did because it was very good.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I wish I could say more clearly what it was that was missing for that extra star. And I didn’t want to put anyone off because it’s a terrific book! As a writer as well, I was so impressed. The work involved in creating all those voices, let alone the historical research… Very impressive 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I read this a couple of years ago and enjoyed it – unusually narrated but compelling. As you say, there are some sombre moments which I found a little distressing – but I can be over-sensitive!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t think you’re over-sensitive! The dark moments are harrowing but overall I think it managed to balance dark and light.
      I remember The Boy with the Striped Pyjamas – I started crying about a third of the way in when I guessed what was going to happen and I don’t think I stopped!

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re right, it was a good balance between the two.
        As for The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – Ah, you’re a brave soul . . . after my kids had seen the film and told me a bit about it, that was me done – couldn’t watch it OR read it. Hopeless! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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    • Exactly! With The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas I realised what was going to happen about a third of the way in, started to cry and I don’t think I stopped until the end – such a simple yet devastating story. I haven’t been brave enough to read anything else by John Boyne since!


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