The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer must have the best title and one of the best jackets of the year. It’s written entirely through letters, which would usually put me off, but I was drawn into this straight away. It’s 1946 and writer Juliet is searching for a subject for a new book. A chance letter from a man on Guernsey sparks an interest in the islanders’ lives under the German occupation and she begins a correspondence with various members of the eponymous society. I really liked these letters, which gave such an insight into the characters of the senders. I especially enjoyed the literary criticisms they sent Juliet: Isola Pribby complaining of the uselessness of the male Brontës; Clovis Fossey wanting to woo a woman with love poetry but being shocked by Catullus because ‘you couldn’t say those words to a nice lady’. As well as the island story there’s the tease about Juliet’s love life and the mystery of what happened to much loved Elizabeth, who was everyone’s friend. If the characters do seem more like homespun American folks than Channel Islanders, never mind; they’re still very charming. I think ‘charm’ is a word which will be used a lot about this book.
Letters about books? People are bound to compare this with 84 Charing Cross Road. Personally, I find Helene Hanff’s book extremely irritating and I much prefer Shaffer’s. It's also a book about a book club, of which there have been so many lately, none of them any good, IMO. (There’s even one* about not joining a book club.) Again Shaffer scores. How sad that she died before she could know how much people liked her book.
For more about the occupation of the Channel Islands I’d recommend a children’s book, We Couldn’t Leave Dinah by Mary Treadgold. Dinah is a pony but this is not really a pony book. It won the Carnegie Medal in 1941 so was written straight out of the horse’s mouth, so to speak. It’s set on Carcinel, an imaginary Channel island, where an English family and their friends enjoy a happy, pony-centred life until disaster strikes.
*No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club by Virginia Ironside. I skimmed through this in a charity shop and decided that yet another wry look at turning sixty was definitely not for me.
Channel Island Liberation stamps, 1948