My mom and sister have been bugging me forever about reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. For whatever reason I was putting it off, but last week, with a lack of fresh reading material at my fingertips I finally picked it up. Very quickly I realized that I couldn't put it down. This book is honestly one of the most delicious pieces of literature I have read in a long time, despite how unappetizing the concept of a potato peel pie sounds.
The book not only renewed my love for reading--how it is magical, how one can relate to it, how it can distract and amuse, and mostly how it can bring people together--but also made me long for a time filled with the romance of the written word. I don't mean romance in the literal sense with love and longing, but rather a romance for long-forgotten ideals that gave people more character. A time when people actually believed in something and stood up for it. A time when emotions drove a person's actions to help them stay human.
Set in post WWII England, you cannot help feeling touched by the daily hardships these people suffered in the war and how they coped, using literature, to rise above their difficult circumstances. The novel tells stories of sorrow, resistance, humor, joy, and reconstruction. The Guernsey Islanders tell how some German officers were cruel and some friendly, some vain and some simple. Their entire story is told through exchanged letters which add intimate details of the characters on a more personal level. The main narrator at one point states, "I'd be ashamed of myself if the war hadn't touched me" (60). And truly, the characters of this novel share the various way they had been touched and their lives forever changed by the horrors of war, for better or worse.
The literary society of Guernsey was brought together under unexpected circumstances during the occupation, but it helped them to endure. "We read books, talked books, argued over books, and became dearer and dearer to one another" (51). The great variety and tastes in types of literature adds flavor to the novel as various people discuss what books brought them comfort. Their own stories are intertwined with their new found love for literature, showing how words on a page can become timeless when they can be related to the human experience. As the novel suggests, "Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers" (10).
When I reached the final page of this novel, not only did I find myself not wanting it to end but I desperately found myself wanting to visit the island of Guernsey. I, too, wanted to have picnics and play tag at the cemetery. I wanted to have races in the meadows and play Dead Bride. I wanted to attend literary meetings and, yes, partake of Potato Peel Pie. I wanted to ride my bicycle alongside Elizabeth McKenna and watch Dawsey reconstruct dilapidated walls. I wanted Isola Pribby to read the bumps on my head. I wanted Eli to carve me something beautiful from a piece of wood. Every character was an ordinary human being to me. They weren't phenomenal or impossibly perfect. They were real.
All I can say is that others who have yet to read this book should pick it up now. Especially if your eyes are itching for something fresh, interesting, and intriguing. Like the war had touched the characters in the novel, you will not put this book down without being touched by its characters.