Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows

rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Origination: Purchased at Book Store

"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 end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment."

Letter from Juliet Ashton to Dawsey Adams
from The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society

Every so often, a novel emerges that reminds us why we are obsessed with reading books. Stumbling upon one of these novels is akin to winning the lottery, it is so rare. This is one of those novels. You absolutely, positively must read this book.

Authors Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece Annie Burrows created something magical in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Written entirely in epistolary form, the reader is introduced to Miss Juliet Ashton, a columnist and newly-published author living in post-World War II London. Desperately in search of a topic for her next novel, inspiration arrives in the form of a letter - of course - from a resident of Guernsey, an island in the English Channel occupied by the Germans during the war, who has happened upon an old book that once belonged to Juliet.

Through the ensuing correspondence between Juliet, her publisher, childhood friends, and her tentative new acquaintances on Guernsey, we learn how Guernsey founded the Literary and Potato Peel Society during the war (and how it's strange name came into being), as well as the hardships and horrors experienced during the German occupation. Interspersed between the inevitable sadness of war are delightfully lighthearted moments of unexpected laughter.

"The boy in the mail-room (I don't bother learning their names anymore) got drunk and threw away all letters addressed to anyone whose name started with an S. Don't ask why."

Letter from Susan Scott to Sidney
The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society
Skillfully woven in between tales of Guernsey's wartime experiences is the discovery of literature by it's residents, thanks to the Literary and Potato Peel Society. Each resident of Guernsey has a different reaction to their chosen book, just as each has a different experience during the war. Shakespeare, Bronte, Lamb, and Owen are but a few of the great authors who have a profound effect on the Guernsey inhabitants and each letter describing their reactions and feelings about these great works is truly delicious. Underneath is the understanding that what we, as readers, take from a book reveals much about us, as well.
"I don't believe that after reading such a fine writer as Emily Bronte, I will be happy to read again Miss Amanda Gillyflower's Ill-Used by Candlelight. Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books."

Letter from Isola Pribby to Juliet Ashton
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
The plot of the novel is unremarkable; it must be understood that it is the writing that makes this book so wonderful. Mary Ann Shaffer (who, sadly, passed away prior to the publication) and her niece Annie Barrow have re-created a lost time, before e-mail, blogs, newsletters and cellphones, when letters were handwritten, sent by post, and were the primary means to keeping in touch with family and friends. The intimacy of old correspondence serves as a reminder of what "progress" has cost us.

If I were forced at gunpoint to find a weakness (and it would have to be at gunpoint, or at least a very sharp knife), the plot takes an ever so slight melodramatic turn involving a secondary character and Oscar Wilde towards the end of the novel. Think hero-tied-to-train-tracks-as-train-approaches. Thankfully, the episode passes quickly and it is easily forgiven.

Simply put, I fell in love with this book and it's contents will remain with me for a lifetime. Not only do I recommend you immediately procure a copy for yourself, but be sure to pick up an extra copy or two because you will want to give them to every true, dyed-in-the-wool book lover you know.

Happy reading....enjoy.

Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Authors: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows

274 pages
ISBN: 978-0-385-34099-1 (hardcover)
Publisher: The Dial Press
Date: August 2008


  1. Lovely review. I love this book too and reviewed it last month. It's one of my ARCs that I did not give away so i will read it again. You have a very nice blog here. I like that the margins are stationery.

  2. That is so nice of you! I absolutely cannot take credit for the blog appearance, though. The credit there goes to the lovely gals over at (Isn't that a great name?)

    I've read quite a few of your reviews and I like that we have such similar tastes in books. It's nice to have a kindred spirit out there.

  3. I loved this book when I read it last month. In fact, I think I have only seen one review where the reader didn't really like it which is kind of unusual!

  4. I was surprised to see a handful of negative reviews on LibraryThing, but I suppose you can't please everyone. (I saw one review that complained that the characters were too nice. And here I am thinking that we could do with a bit of niceness in the world these days!)

    To each their own, right?

  5. I have heard so much about this book...looks like I'll have to run out and get it today!!

    BTW - congrats on winning the copy of The Heretic Queen! I've just started it this morning and I'm hooked already!

  6. I think you'll really like it, Amy. By the way...I love the new look over at Passages to the Past! It took me a few days to see it, since I have you in my RSS feeder and that only pulls up your posts. It looks great!

  7. You like it? Thanks! And thanks for the info to cutestblog - they have a really cool site!


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