TBR Challenge 2017: Something Different
This month’s theme required a book which either falls outside my comfort zone, has an unusual setting, is a non-romance, etc. It took me quite a while to locate a book in my TBR list that I felt best fit this criteria. After much consideration, I finally settled on The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, which is an epistolary novel. For those who are unfamiliar with this term, an epistolary novel is a novel written entirely through letters, notes, telegrams, diary entries, newspaper clippings and/or other documents. They are not my preference for daily recreational reading because it’s a difficult form to master and takes a skilled author to successfully pull off. In the wrong author’s hands, it can become a tedious torture to wade through. Epistolary novels also have a tendency to distance the reader from the action of the story, thus slowing the pace. They are a more leisurely, contemplative read than the usual fast-paced, contemporary romances, chick-lit, paranormal suspense, and cozy mysteries I habitually devour. That is the first reason I chose this book as my ‘Something Different.”
The second reason this was outside my comfort zone is the WWII era historical setting of the story. I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction. Of course there have been books that have been exceptions (books by Diana Gabaldon, or Anne Rice, or Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, for example), but for the most part, historical fiction is not something I seek out.
Thirdly, I rarely read any books with a wartime setting, during any era. They are, more often than not, depressingly bleak and full of suffering and sorrow and I try to avoid those feelings at all costs. There is far too much of that in reality. I don’t want it in my escapism.
That said, thank goodness for the TBR Challenge! Otherwise I might never have read this gem of a book.
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
“ I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.”
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….
As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.
Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.
Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.
This was a wonderful story full of subtlety and grace, a quiet love story gently folded into a poignant tale of hardship, suffering, war, and the triumph of the human spirit, and populated with quirky, resilient, engaging characters.
I confess, up until reading this book, I was completely ignorant about the Channel Islands, of their being occupied by the Germans for five years during WWII, and of the horrors and tragedies that befell the islanders. This book unveils the struggles and plight of these people in a subtle and personal way through the eyes of these characters who experienced and survived it. Information depicting the German Occupation of Guernsey was subtly interwoven with the description of the everyday lives of the inhabitants of the island and, in spite of the subject matter, this is not a dark story. It is charming and graceful and full of life and love and hope. I was thoroughly enchanted by it and highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about WWII history, eccentric tight-knit communities, abiding friendships, the power of literature, or the indomitable human spirit.
The only other book set during WWII that I’ve read and truly loved was Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society evoked a strong desire in me to revisit Ms. Harris’s book.