There aren’t many epistolary novels around — the only one I can remember having read is Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary, and that’s intended for children. I think the plot of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was served well by the structure. The nature of the story almost requires the input from many of the characters, and the idea of using letters to tell the story is a fresh way to go about this. It made for a refreshing reading experience.
My favorite part of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is the story of the German occupation of the island of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. I had no idea that any part of Great Britain was ever taken over by Nazi forces during World War II. I found the story of the islanders compelling, and I believe it was made more so by the piecemeal way I had to put the story together. The letters allowed me some of the history, but not all of it, and not all at once. It’s a feeling that simulates, in a way, the way it might feel like to be in a war — never knowing exactly what had happened, getting the information you do get from all sorts of sources, some more reliable than others, and having to make the connections yourself as to what exactly did go down. I absolutely love this part of the book.
I also like the characters. Juliet, our heroine, is a cheerful and intensely curious woman. The islanders are all diverse, but also have a cohesiveness to them that makes them realistic. Juliet’s publisher, Sidney, and his sister are also present, but mainly as a device to allow Juliet to tell her story — they aren’t fully present, but I still like them.
My only issue with this book is that it is a pretty predictable romance — Juliet has a checkered past with romance. Juliet is wooed by a man she’s not sure she loves. Juliet runs away and finds a more suitable love interest. I’ve read it before. More interesting to me was the love story between a dead islander, Elizabeth, and a Nazi officer. That story, I feel, should be the center of the book, because it’s so much more compelling. I found myself not really caring about Juliet’s love life and, instead, wishing that things had turned out differently for Elizabeth.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is, overall, a sweet book with a unique story. I don’t think it likely that a similar book will be written soon, and that’s a good thing. Some stories deserve to stand on their own.