Curmudgeonalia
I see I taste I write Links What?
December 28, 2008

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Mary Ann Shaffer – ISBN – 9780385340991

Books do not . . . simply cannot . . . get any more enjoyable than this. Unhappily, it ends too soon. It’s not that one cannot put it down, but one wishes not to have to. It is a joy to read.

It is based in Guernsey after WW II, a British channel isle occupied by the Germans for five years during that war--the only English territory to be so scourged. The protagonist, an author, has decided to write of the islanders’ experience, which is explored fully and rewards the reader with a wonderful recitation. The characters are carefully wrought; interesting, complex and delightful people, except for a nosy misanthrope or two.

The format is unusual—not to say peculiar--being entirely composed of letters between the corresponding characters. It takes only a dozen pages to get the hang of reading what at first seems clumsy, but Shaffer is so deft that a rhythm is soon established. The author exhibits wit and a wry sense of humor in developing the personalities, while reporting on the dreary hardships and desolation of the occupation. Real people are developed letter by letter. “Writing in all those different voices was a blast . . . like playing 20 different roles, each with his or her own voltage and excitement.”

The story begins with a few community members who formed a social group with the premise of reading and reporting on literature, and sharing food. Since all foodstuffs were in short supply one of the snacks provided was Potato Peel Pie, composed of a crust of potato peels (absent butter and flour), filled with mashed potatoes and flavored with beet juice (absent spices, herbs and sugar)--hence the name of the society .

They managed to endure the deprivation, formed many new friendships, reinforced older ones, and many of the expanding group of participants became involved in reading for the first time in their lives, which added immensely to their shared experiences, not to mention a greatly enhanced awareness of the world of literature.

The plot is honey-combed with side and back stories, expressed thru the many letters and voices. The tale is complex but well explored, and the end, while not really surprising is . . . well, surprising.

Sadly, this was the only book written by this elderly author; she died before its publication. She did have the satisfaction of knowing it was scheduled for printing, and in the experienced hands of her niece and co-author, Annie Barrows who saw it to completion.

Read it. You will not be disappointed.


Posted by respeto at December 28, 2008 12:49 PM