Sunday, July 29, 2012

35. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“ 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.

I adore the framing if this novel. I felt as though I had stumbled upon and old chest in the attic filled with the hearts and beings of a wonderful group of people.  Each member of the Society is a person unto themselves, not written to build up the main character or to simply convey a plot.  Amelia, Isola, Dawsey, Booker and Eben are fully their own.  Through their letters, Juliet and us readers become confidants to a dear little island community, are invited to witness the battery, survival and triumph of the human soul during wartime, and to feel that swelling of the heart at the very moment our heroine rushes out to claim her own personal hero.  This is more than the telling of history, more than a book club. My own hero in the book was the humanity and friendship of the characters.

The generosity of books to heal a broken spirit and the inspiration literature provides to the rebuilding and reclaiming of life is shared. That letters arranged just-so upon a page can bring light to ones being, a fact all readers are aware of at some level, is stated gently, as though reminding us that we are more than our daily tasks.
That's what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book.  It's geometrically progressive - all with no ending in sight, and all for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.
Original.  Charming.  Unflinching. Engaging.  Heartbreaking. Captivating. Uniquely lovely.  This book written in letters is high on the list of my top 5 books. My only regret occurred as I turned the last page.  I will just have to read it again!

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