Saturday, June 23, 2012

Potato Peel Pie

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

Here's another book that doesn't really need my publicity, but it's getting it anyway.  The Geurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a pleasant, enjoyable read. I don't think it's great literature, but it's not trash, either.  It may be mostly fluff, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Set shortly after the close of hostilities in WWII, the book is an epistolary novel, i.e., written as a series of letters. The bulk of the letters are between Juliet Ashton, author, and assorted residents of Guernsey, though other writers and recipients appear. Likewise, some exchanges are brief notes and even telegrams to and from other people in Juliet's life.

The overall tone of the book is light, leading me to believe that a line that struck me was no accident.  John Booker writes, in his first letter to Juliet, that he has been reading the letters of Seneca, "a Roman philosopher who wrote letters to imaginary friends telling the how to behave for the rest of their lives.  Maybe that sounds dull, but the letters aren't--they're witty.  I think you learn more if you're laughing at the same time."

That struck me, maybe because that's why I like to--no, it's not that I like to be funny, but that I can't  help seeing the humor in just about everything (including times and events when it's not convenient).  But I had a strong feeling that Ms. Schaffer agrees with Booker, that whatever you want to say, you'll be heard more surely if you say it with laughter. or at least lightness. I don't think that the book has a  "message," but it does seem to be saying that whatever you face, better to face it with whatever humor you can muster. And with friends and books, not necessarily in that order.

The underlying story about how the Guernsey islanders endured the Nazi Occupation--and how at least some discovered that, whatever evil Nazism held, individual Germans were very apt to still be humans--is strong and appealing.  Juliet's discovery of the Island and Islanders and her growing affection is also appealing, if not 100% real.  For me, the love story doesn't measure up.  It felt predictable and unconvincing. The "negative love story," Juliet's interactions with the man she is clearly not destined to marry, is pleasant and humorous, if not wholly believable.  It's part of the humor of the story and as such is worthwhile.

The story of True Love is charming and I rooted for it, but I didn't really believe in it.  I could see it coming a mile away, and never felt either doubt that it would  happen or any real belief that it made sense.  It didn't make me hate the book, but it did knock some points off.

Overall, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a grand read, taught me a bit I never knew about WWII, and feels like a book I might return to, as I do to many easy reads, when chocolate isn't enough. When other people might turn on the TV for reruns of The Wonder Years, I re-read books that are like mental comfort food. Ms. Staffer's book might well qualify for that list, and maybe that's high enough praise.  3 1/2 stars.

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