The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society(GLPPP) is one book which I can’t say it without taking a look at the title.
Before I begin the story about literary society and books, I like to explore a strange phenomenon ever since I began reading for leisure in 2008 (yeah, I often wonder what took me so long?) after a lapse of 8 years reading management books. In every book I seem to find a little link between one book to another, although the books are all remotely unrelated to each other. When I finished reading Dream Angus, Alexander McCall Smith, and picked up Every Move You Make, David Malouf, the protagonist of the first short story is also named Angus. When I finished Where Three Roads Meet, Salley Vickers, I thought perhaps it’s best to start a book about Freud so that it would sort of relate to the previous book I read. I decided not to, and this book GLPPP society again mentioned the Sigmund Freud’s society, in which a psychiatrist in 1934 barged into the meeting of the society one day and made this statement:
Did any of you ever think that around the time the notion of a SOUL disappeared, Freud popped up with the EGO to take its place? The timing of the man! Did he not pause to reflect? Irresponsible old coot! It is my belief that man must spout this twaddle about egos because they fear they have no souls! Think about it!
(needless to say Thompson was barred from the Freud’s society forever!)
Then after reading this book, I picked up Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee, thinking this time I will be free of Freud or Oedipus only to find upon page 2, this verse: Call no man happy until he is dead. – Oedipus
I think all books do have a subtle link. I’ll try to write them down whenever I spot them again. 🙂
Ok back to the book.
It’s 1946 and author Juliet Ashton can’t think of what to write next. Out of the blue, she received a letter from Dawsey Adams of Guernsey – by chance, he’s acquired a book that once belonged to her – and, spurred on by their mutual love of reading, they begin a correspondence. When Dawsey reveals that he is a member of the GLPPP, Juliet’s curiosity if piqued and it’s not long before she begins to hear from other members. As letters fly back and forth with stories of life in Guernsey under the German Occupation, Juliet soon realises that the society is every bit as extraordinary as its name.
There are a lot of people involved. The society consists of Dawsey Adams, Isola, Eben Ramsey, John Bookner, Will Thisbee, Amelia, Elizabeth McKenna. Elizabeth being the key inspiration to the group and also Juliet’s. Adelaide Addison, the woman who slanders the group about all things amoral.
There are also Sidney and Sophie Strachan, the former Juliet’s friend and publishing editor. Sidney, Sophie’s brother. Markham Reynolds, relentless American admirer who only wants Juliet as his prize wife and not her independence and ambition.
What made me smile was the story about people whose lives have changed since they began reading and how the community raised a child together and how they helped each other during the difficult times during the German occupation. There are few war books, besides the holocaust victims, that I read describes how the Germans treated the civilians under occupation outside Germany. So the stories shared by the inhabitants of the Guernsey were eye-opening, and hilarious especially the one how Dawsey dragged the dead pig around to every farm for it to be counted. The Germans conducted routine checks around the farms to count the pigs. They register the piglets if they are born and if they are dead, to issue death certificate; to avoid the native culling the pig for their own, as food is ration, the German soldiers have to eat too.
These are some of my favourite quotes about books and reading:
I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.
Her (Juliet’s) light, frivolous turn of mind (to publish a gossip column) gained her a large following among the less intellectually inclined readers – of whom, I fear, there are many.
And the final one, my favourite:
Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books.
Besides the profound message about the influence of books and how it changes life, it is essentially a feel good book about the inhabitants Guernsey Island during WWII, how a city girl discover the beauty and how she found love in Guernsey Island.
As this is an epistolatory novel, I can’t help but being nitpicky about how the letters are written.
- First, the correspondence are too frequent in the 1940’s for my logical mind, it feels like the authors of the letters are treating the correspondence like emails. So you can see notes received and sent within a day and expect a reply the very next day! (The Royal mail can be efficient, but no way they are that efficient!)
- Second, the letters are written in the same style and tone as Juliet, the main protagonist. All of them are upbeat, have sunny personalitiy and wonderful sense of humour.
- Third, Juliet writes letter almost everyday, mostly to Sidney, although Sidney hardly reply, maybe 10%?
- Fourth, there are just too many characters involved. After awhile, you forgot who is who, and who said what. Only one or two characters stuck with me at the end.
It started very promising, and I was entertained, but it all went downhill after that. If you like warm and fuzzy feel-good read, this is one for you. Otherwise, this is just too girlie for me. I am reading this as Bonus read of what could-be the future classics, on top of the 5 classic books I must read for the Classics Reading Challenge. I am tempted to say this would be a tick box for Typically British Challenge too, but I think it’s too cheesy to qualify. 😦
Paperback. Publisher: Bloomsbury 2009; Length: 248 pages; Setting: WWII Guernsey Island; Source: M. Creed, co-worker. Finished reading at: 17 May 2010
About the writers:
Mary Ann Shaffer became interested in Guernsey while visiting London in 1980. Mary Ann’s health began to decline shortly after selling to publishers, she aked her niece, Annie Barrows, to help her finish the book. Mary Ann died in February 2008. Hardback edition was published the same year.