Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

One year as his wife, and I’d have become one of those abject women who look at their husbands when someone asks them a question. I’ve always despised that type, but I see how it happens now.

I’m a sucker for a good title, so when my friend Dom (short for Dominique not Dominatrix, though I do have a friend who rightfully owns the latter label) said she was reading a book called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society my interest was piqued. When she said it was about a writer who was more interested in books than marriage, I drove to the bookstore (local, independent…ahem) and bought it in hard cover. I was pretty sure of its ending before I even picked it up, but that didn’t lessen the pleasure of a novel that is charming without ever crossing the line into precious.

This epistolary novel is set in the aftermath of World War II, and the heroine Juliet Ashton is an unthinkable thing—a happily single woman in her early 30s. On a book tour promoting a collection of pithy essays she wrote during the war, she receives a letter from a resident of the Guernsey Islands who found her name in a book by Charles Lamb. As a woman who once bought a novel simply because a cute guy recommended it to me, my reader’s heart flipped a bit, and I did something I rarely do with books I read simply for pleasure: I slowed down.

I am a disgustingly fast reader, but some books want you to take them slowly, and this is one of them. This is in part because it’s a book about friendships and community. And in between the charming and the romantic, the history of the German occupation of Guernsey left me a little breathless. I couldn’t rush through those parts anymore than I could walk quickly past a graveyard. One letter in the novel actually made me cry, something I never do over books, especially on a rush-hour train when my feet are cold. Another letter made me gasp over pancakes at my favorite diner.

Let me confess here that I am not a fan of modern fiction with its thinly veiled narcissism and graceless prose, but every once in a while a modern novel will pull me in, and I can tell when it happens because I get nervous that it will let me down, fall into some storytelling trap that leaves me feeling flat. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society didn’t. It helps that it has all the right literary references on its side–Chaucer, Lamb, Austen, and the much-ignored Anne Bronte. How could I not be seduced? When I finished it, I let out a little sigh, closed my eyes, and imagined myself somewhere else.

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National Day of Service

President-elect Obama has reminded us that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is the perfect day to honor or fellow citizens through a national day of service. I want to give him a chance and pitch in however I can, but my civic impulses were blocked by the icy cold weather we’ve had this past week. It’s been a battle between my conscience (help out, pitch in, support the new president) and my toes (my feet get colder quicker than any part of my body and just never warm up).

It then occurred to me that I live in an apartment building with a good number of neighbors, so, frostisity (what? that’s a word!) being the mother of keeping warm, I’ll be having an indoor food drive on Monday, January 19th. I’ll even have hot cider and cookies for those who drop by.

I’ll also be chuckling at this Public Service Announcement I saw when I was visiting my parents over the holidays.