Saturday, 26 September 2009

"The bright day is done and we are for the dark."

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer.
I bought this book for my sister for her birthday, and pinched it back after she said that she enjoyed it. I have read it in a couple of days this week. Probably a good one to move on to as it was quite a nice quick read, but thoroughly enjoyable and engaging. Written as a series of letters and set in the immediate post -war period it tells the story of the occupation of Guernsey during the Second World War. Juliet is a writer and journalist, touring to promote a collection of her wartime writings, and she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, who found her name and address in a second hand book, and in a literary deprived environment is seeking out some writing by Charles Lamb. So begins Juliet's friendship with the literary society, formed on a whim by the inimitable Elizabeth to avoid punishment for a curfew breach, but which becomes their saviour in the dark times ahead.
Even though all you are getting is tiny snippets of the life that they lead during the occupation, told piecemeal by different characters, you end up with quite a complete picture of what life was like for the islanders. It must have been strange because the war was right there on their doorstep, in the form of the German soldiers, and yet they were totally isolated from the rest of the world. The only assistance they received was when the British government sent a ship to evacuate the children immediately before the invasion, and then towards the end of the war the Red Cross were finally allowed to bring some food parcels.
So Juliet then starts receiving letters from all sorts of people on the island, keen to share their experiences with her and she begins to get totally caught up in their story. Most of the progress of the book however is told through her letters to her editor Sidney and to Sophie, her best friend and Sidney's sister. To elude the attentions of a rather brash and presumptuous American, Markham V Reynolds Junior, she decides to visit Guernsey to meet her new found friends and learn more about their lives. I think the book captures very well the optimism of the post war period. The harsh deprivations of the war are all too apparent and, though not dwelt upon, the terrible sufferings inflicted by the Nazis are there as a background and something that plainly touched and impacted on every life. The literary society developed into something far more than just sharing books, it gave the people a sense of new connection with their neighbours and bonded them firmly together. When Elizabeth is sent to a prisoner of war camp for harbouring an escaped slave labourer the group rallies round to care for and raise her young daughter.
I won't spoil the story by saying any more, but here is a lovely book, full of genuine atmosphere and very real characters and you feel that the author had a close affinity for them and their experience.

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