Do you know what you can get for under twelve bucks at Wal-Mart? About four bags of supreme pizza rolls. Or a small pack of Huggies—you know, the kind with only enough diapers to last a weekend. Or a Hannah Montana tee, knee socks, plaid miniskirt, hair clips, shoes, or pajamas—I bet if you could even get Hannah Montana fruit snacks. (Notice I didn’t list a Hannah Montana backpack? It’s because I’m banking that they’re more than twelve bucks. How else can you expect Miley to pay for her unicorn collection?!)
Or—if none of the above sparks your interest—you could get a copy of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
Now, don’t be put off by its hokey name. You should know that my first instinct was, “Chic Book Alert!” which—as you can probably tell by now despite my chic status—isn’t really my type of book. Nevertheless, under the polite scrutiny and encouragement of my work book club, I purchased my own copy. OK. Say you just took my advice and bought your own copy, and opened it up to the first page. “What’s this?” you hypothetically say. “It’s a letter,” and as you flip through you realize, “What the devil? It’s all letters. It’s a novel entirely composed of letters!” And it’s true. It is a novel composed entirely of letters. But please stop walking to the Returns counter. Except for the crazy limitations the formatting must have put on the authors who still managed to pull off a New York Times Bestseller, you will still enjoy it.
Love it, I daresay.
Miss Juliet Aston is a newspaper columnist and semi-successful novelist living in London in a post WWII world. London is in ruins, a virtual skyline of crumbling brick buildings and other “dinosaur bones” of a once thriving city. Juliet’s own flat was destroyed by Germany's bombs, and paralleling the city’s aftermath, Juliet’s ideas for her next novel are scattered and lacking a common thread. Until one day…
…Juliet receives a letter from a Mr. Dawsey Adams from Guernsey, a Channel Island. Dawsey finds himself in possession of a book that once belonged to Juliet. She writes back to Dawsey, saying, “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” (a statement that I know has to be true. How else would I have found The Vorkosigan Series by Lois McMaster Bujold? It had to be Book Karma!)
In the midst of their correspondence, Dawsey reveals to Juliet of his participation in a local literary society, which was invented by accident in the heat of the Nazi occupation of Guernsey. Soon the entire hodge-podge literary society opens up a discourse with Juliet, telling stories of the occupation, some light-hearted and others heart-wrenching.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is worth reading. Book clubs will especially love it. With a ribbon of humor, Shaffer and Barrows offer a fresh perspective on the aftermath of WWII and testify to how literature can link people together in tough times.
(As published in the Foothill Breeze on September 17, 2009)