Have you ever read a good, good book that you were sorry came to an end? That was my experience this evening. After a long commute in the snow today and a stop at the grocery store, I came home to finish a book I started on the weekend. I almost wish I'd dragged it out a few more days, just to extend the pleasure.
Many of you have probably already heard about and read the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, but it was new to me. My daughter-in-law Jennifer gave it to me when she was visiting at Thanksgiving. "Here," she said, "I just finished this and I think you'll like it." Well, I've been busy with other things and didn't get around to the book until this weekend. What a treat I've been saving got myself.
Did you know that the islands in the English Channel that belonged to England were occupied by the Germans in World War II? I took a whole upper-level college class on World War II and wrote a research paper on the bombing of Britain but I did not remember ever knowing that Germans were actually occupiers of British soil. That is not the only story being told in this book, however, and it is the layers and layers of sub-stories that provide such pleasure for the reader. The cast of characters--and characters they are---do not seem to be, as happens so often in modern fiction, to be developed simply to fulfill stereotypes that seem to be necessary to today's publishers. They come off the page as living, breathing people you might think you've met before. And would like to meet again and claim as your friends.
The book is written as a series of letters between an author and her publisher, as well as letters to the publisher's sister, other friends, and most importantly to the members of the Literary Society. They weren't just any book group, certainly. I've been a book group member and I'm here to tell you that we did not operate like the members of the Guernsey group--and I think it was our loss.
The title might lead you to believe that this is a comedy, and it is. But The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society is also a tragedy. It's a love story. It's a mystery and it's history. It is everything a good, unforgettable book should be, which is why I did not want the story to end.
It is unfortunate that the author, Mary Ann Shaffer, did not survive to see the success of her story. But we are fortunate that her niece Annie Barrows took up the work and saw the book through to publication. It is a story that needed to be told, and Shaffer and Barrows tell it masterfully, deeply and satisfyingly.
Go find it. Read it. You will be glad you did.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
The Dial Press, 2008.