Aside from having one of the greatest names you could possibly give a book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society comes highly recommended by my mother. And by that, I mean she recommended it until she finally just plunked it down on my table and said, “You need to read this, so you’re borrowing it.” She apparently adores the book – so I’m treading lightly here when I say it was alright. I didn’t dislike it. I just don’t think I really got it.
Part of my “huh?” reaction here might be due to the kind of books I tend to read. Usually, I read either children’s books, with pretty obvious plot-lines, adventurous stories with obvious plot-lines, or history books with less obvious plot-line, but a pretty clear purpose: to teach history. Ethan has a similar obsession with plot; when Ethan and I got married, we were sorting through our books and deciding how to shelve them. We decided to go by category, and I confused him by classifying one book as “fiction.”
“What kind of fiction?”
“Just general fiction.”
“…like, historical-fiction? Adventure-fiction? Science-fiction?” Apparently, he was unfamiliar with non-hyphenated fiction. He had always read for the plot-line. General fiction is more of an experience than a plot-line, in some cases – and Ethan had usually stuck to the strictly adventurous, conflict-resolving types of books.
This is the kind of lost I felt reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (GLPPPS). I really enjoyed the last 100 pages or so. But it’s nearly 300 pages long, and I spent a lot of time just trying to figure out why the book was written. That sounds harsher than I mean it – I wasn’t wondering, “Who would write such a book?” – I was really just looking for the book’s main purpose or theme. I was wondering, “What exactly is this book supposed to be?” Pages 1-50 seemed to be about a writer. She wrote things. Then there were another 50 pages about a literary society (the GLPPPS) that made pies out of mashed potatoes. Also, some guy named Mark who went on dates with the writer from pages 1-50. (The writer in question was the main character, sort of, I think. The whole thing was written in letters back and forth, but the writer, Juliet, seemed to be the one in the driver’s seat.) Then pages 100-200, approximately, were about a beautiful island called Guernsey, and its horrible occupation by German soldiers during World War II. In the meantime, Juliet (the writer) complained about how much she wanted to write a book about all this, but couldn’t seem to find the right glue to hold the story together. (I, as the reader, was a little inclined to agree – I read it and thought, “If I just had a clue what to focus on, this would be a really good historical-fiction.” And then I criticized myself for demanding hyphenated fiction.)
By about the last 70 pages, I started to get the idea that the book was intended to be a light-hearted look at heavy issues: let’s address the horrors of World War II, specifically focus on this island, and give it a human face. That made sense, and by the end of the book, I had stopped wandering in a plot-less fog to find myself in a rather pleasant book.
So, all in all, I can recommend this book on certain conditions: if you want to read something that tells you about humanity (and inhumanity) in times of war, but you definitely don’t want to wade through a history book, this is a very good read. Let me save you some time, however, and tell you what to expect.
First off, I’ll give you the official genres. On the inside cover of nearly every book – where the copyright information is – there’s a little spot halfway down the page that lists the book’s genres, or general topics. This helps libraries and bookstores to categorize the book (without having to hire somebody to read the whole thing). Having been an editor, I should have thought of this while I was wandering through the first 100 pages or so, but alas! I only checked it out after I was through the whole thing.
The GLPPPS lists as its genres:
- Women authors – Fiction.
- Book clubs (Discussion groups) – Fiction.
- London (England) – History – 20th century – Fiction.
- Guernsey (Channel Islands) – Fiction.
- England – Fiction.
There you have it. It’s a book about a woman author, a book club, Guernsey (in the Channel Islands), and London (in England). All of which is fiction. In my opinion, you’ll have a much better time if you read it with the idea that it’s a book about a writer named Juliet who finds out about the atrocities of the German occupation by following the life of Elizabeth, a former resident of Guernsey. (Not to spoil anything, but Elizabeth is the “glue” Juliet finally gets for her book.) Keeping this in mind, I think you will enjoy the book. ♦