Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Potato peels and wartime

I mentioned earlier this month that all six of the book clubs in my coverage area have had a go at The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society this year, and decided it was my turn, too. I finished it last night, and found it enjoyable and funny.

Guernsey is a classic epistolary novel, told through a series of letters. Juliet is a columnist and author who lives in London. World War II has just ended and things are slowly settling back to normal. She's much relieved to have new subject matter (she's had a difficult assignment, writing an observational humor column during wartime to keep everyone's spirits up, even though she lost her ex-fiance and her apartment was bombed) and an idea for her new book comes from a surprising place: the Channel Island of Guernsey.

All I knew of Guernsey was their cows, so I was intrigued. After reading the novel, I'm not sure how much more I know, but I did learn that they were occupied by the Germans during WWII and nearly starved (maybe. I'll have to look it up, after the incident with the movie "Millions" when I was shocked to learn that Britain never converted to the Euro.) Juliet was intrigued by the presence of Potato Peel Pie in the society's title, and so was I. It dates back to the spontaneous founding of the Society, when one of its members held a secret pig roast that kept them out after curfew. On the way home, several of the Islanders were detained by German police, and one of them invented the literary society on the spot.

When the policeman asked to attend their next gathering, they had to create one, and one recalcitrant member stated that he wouldn't join unless there was food involved. Potato peel pie has potato peels as the 'crust' and mashed potato filling. After the war, one of the members contacts Juliet because he owns a book she had given away, and he wanted to know if she knew more about the author. They strike up a correspondance, and as Juliet learns more about wartime Guernsey, she decides it would make a perfect book and travels to the island, where she finds (predictably) romance and a home.

What makes this book are the characters, and the added elements of war and of books sustaining one through a difficult time (the initial subject Juliet asks them to muse upon). It's more lighthearted and entertaining than a book involving genocide, oppression and war has any right to be, but its tone never feels inappropriate. I can see why it's so popular among book clubs, but I have to say that while I found it a good read, I did not find it terribly thought-provoking and wonder what the clubs discuss.

1 comment:

chris said...

I agree, it is good book club fodder, but it was not thought-provoking. I didn't gain anything having read the book. I think that's why I feel so meh about it.