What a joy it is to pick up a book you know to be much-loved, and generally well received, and feel the same genuine delight within its pages. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was that book for me, through and through. I had seen it everywhere, of course heard about the movie (no, I haven’t watched it, I hadn’t read the book yet!), and read so much adoration of the novel that I couldn’t resist picking up a $3 copy in Vinnies and giving it a go.
This epistolary novel follows the story of Juliet, well-loved columnist and writer during war-time (now post-war) England. Through the novel we gain insight into her friendships, her conflicting emotions regarding love and relationships, and her growing love affair with Guernsey after a man there finds a book he loves that once belonged to Juliet, and introduces himself by letter. What follows is a gorgeous tale of budding friendships, families we choose, and a whole lot of love for literature and people.
Oh, where to start. The characters in this novel are just charming and delightful. Some we meet through a single letter, others become mainstays of the novel, but all are almost instantly recognisable to you in some way through their thoughts or ways of writing. Juliet herself is incredibly witty and emotive, I adore her writing voice throughout and I got some great chuckles out of her descriptions and self-reflections. I loved the range as well, from quiet and unassuming Dawsey, to the kind-of-mad but also amazing Isola, to the gorgeous brotherly presence of Sidney. Reading this book was like getting to know new friends, and the joy of reading their letters to each other was almost equal to the joy of receiving a letter in real life from a friend (a practice I think we should all do more of – they are far superior to receiving bills in the mail!).
My focus on the characters is not to discount the actual story itself, either. Though it comes to light slowly, there is a clear thread holding all the letters together and the way the relationships between people build and change all contributes to the flow of the story itself. I half had in my mind that a certain thing was coming, but was happy to be surprised in a completely different and beautiful way – something that happened a few times as the narrative reveals itself, all with the backing of beautiful prose and language. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to re-write someone else’s body of work with an editor but Barrows has done it incredibly well. The afterword from her is also delightful and it was a lovely way to wind down after finishing such a gorgeous tale – to learn about the amazing woman behind it!
Overall, I genuinely can’t fault this book…which is boring, I know, but it was just such a gentle and warm story – like being curled up under a blanket beside an old friend, swapping stories. Historical fiction isn’t necessarily always my bag, but this was an absolutely captivating read.
Read if: You are ready to fall in love with a new cast of witty and wonderful characters.
Page Length: 368
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
I’m sure there are many of you who have also delighted in this novel – let me know if you’ve read it and let’s chat!