Thoughts on “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society”

I am so happy to be reading again. Reading as I used to read, where I become completely absorbed by a story and fall in love with time, place, a group of people, or simply the cadence and lushness of an author’s choices for word and rhythm.

It’s been a horrible challenge to focus well enough to really fall deeply into a book in that way. Before the relationship, before anxiety and whatever else is going on started taking over my brain, it was something that came easily to me. He didn’t like it when I fell into a book and didn’t make him my focus, though, and gradually, I stopped reading.

A Twist On Life, Appreciating Stillness

As expected, I finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society last night. It took me two days.

Also as expected, I found the book vastly superior to the movie of the same name by Netflix.

The events of the book unfold over a much longer period of time than they do in the movie. In the movie, everything takes place in two weeks. In the book, it’s months before the characters even meet.

The friendships between people have time to evolve more organically in the book, and are far more believable as a result.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is the story of the German occupation of Guernsey. The characters and the storyline give anchor to that tale.

“We clung to books and to our friends; they reminded us that we had another part to us.” 

― Mary Ann Shaffer, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I am no stranger to tales of the horrors of WWII. Yet even I was impacted by the events that unfold. It is one thing to read of the concentration camps, and another to read of the experiences of huddling in bomb shelters while planes fly overhead and buildings explode around you. Having to live with the enemy, on a small island, no less, is yet another horror entirely, and not one I had been exposed to previously.

As I sat stretched lengthwise across my couch reading, I found myself reaching for tissues over and over again. At some points, I had to put the book down and pause for a few moments while I wept.

The book takes place shortly after the war ends when residents of Guernsey are once again able to communicate with the outside world. The story is achieved through correspondences, mostly between residents of Guernsey and the lead character, Juliet, who is a writer by trade. The letters are each written in a different character’s voice and are done so well that each person starts to feel like a dear friend writing a personal note to you, the reader.

“Sorrow has rushed over the world like the waters of the Deluge, and it will take time to recede. But already, there are small islands of – hope? Happiness? Something like them, at any rate.” 

― Mary Ann Shaffer, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

When the residents start to tell their stories, to talk about their experiences while the island was occupied, it is hard to not cry. You’ve grown to love these people and you want nothing more than to clutch them to your chest and cry with them.

Yet there are happy tears, as well, and much in the tale that is quite silly and delightful.

I assume I give nothing away by revealing that Juliet does eventually travel to Guernsey. The welcome she receives from these many friends she has only met through letters made me weep with joy for them all.

“There was Isola in a mad hat and a purple shawl pinned with a glittering brooch. She was smiling fixedly in the wrong direction and I loved her instantly.” 

― Mary Ann Shaffer, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I put the book down and sobbed and laughed for a long few minutes before I was ready to pick it back up and resume their journey with them.

I’ll say no more that might ruin the book for anyone. I regret how quickly I finished, though. I wish I could have stayed in 1940s Guernsey with Juliet, her London friends, and the members of the literary society for far longer.

When I turned the last page it was still early in the evening, with several hours to kill before bedtime. I’m not one who can leap immediately from one book to another. I need a moment of mourning, a day perhaps, during which I say goodbye to the new friends I’ve made and, in this case, a location I’ve fallen in love with (I am definitely adding the islands of the English Channel to my shortlist of travel destinations).

Start new book, fall in love, finish, cry, repeat

I turned on the movie version and watched it again.

I hope some of you have both read the book and watched the movie, and are interested in discussing the comparison between the two. There is much that could be talked about.

Today, though, after getting a good night’s sleep and feeling as though I’ve healed somewhat, I will start reading March by Geraldine Brooks, which I am very eager to do.

“You go on. You set one foot in front of the other, and if a thin voice cries out, somewhere behind you, you pretend not to hear, and keep going.” 

― Geraldine Brooks, March

And after that? My mother’s book club is reading The Woman’s Hour by Elaine Weiss, which looks quite interesting. It’s available at the library, so I believe I shall pick it up next.

And after I finish The Woman’s Hour? Who knows. Oh, but how excited I am about the adventures that await!

The world of books is where I make my home, and I am so glad to have finally come home.

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