Potato Peel Pie

Posted by Lou. The time is 1.07pm here in London UK.

Don't worry, this isn't a recipe for Potato Peel Pie, but rather a quick review of a wonderful book that I think you should all read: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

I have to start by telling you a little something about the author, Mary Ann Shaffer. She was a book-lover who worked in libraries and bookshops, and dreamed of writing her own novel one day. In her later years she set about doing just that but became very ill with cancer, so brought her niece Annie Barrows on to help finish it as co-writer. Unfortunately Shaffer passed away just months before the book was published - but she has given us exactly what I am sure she set out to do: a book for book-lovers.

The central character Juliet is absolutely delightful and the sort of woman you like to think you would be if you lived in London through the WWII bombings. She is witty, clever, self-deprecating, and a deliciously cheeky writer who makes the most of the material devastation and the deprivation that went hand-in-hand with the times. Her personality leaps off the page, and of course provides more than a little insight into the personality of her author.

Chance brings Juliet into contact with a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, and natural curiosity takes over. He in turn puts her into contact with various other members and soon she decides to write a book about their stories of Nazi occupation.

Did I mention that the entire thing is told through the letters that fly back and forth between Guernsey and the mainland?

I read this book on recommendation from bookworm friend Meredith after I had visited Guernsey earlier this year. I'm going to be honest and say that before my visit I hadn't known about the Nazi occupation of Guernsey, but it is impossible not to be affected by it after visiting the island and seeing how this is the defining event of their existence.

(I had the good fortune of being there for the 65th anniversary of the end of the occupation, so was treated to a wonderful parade of the old military vehicles and '40s dress-up by the surviving Guerns who were children at the time and their families. I wish I had read this book beforehand.)

One of the more fascinating elements of the occupation is the way that the constancy of the occupation led to people overcoming the division between occupier and occupied, with relationships developing between local women and members of the German army. A strange idea to comprehend romance in the midst of horrors, but a reminder that members of the German army were people too.

Shaffer captures the experience of occupation with empathy and warmth, but does not shy away from the brutality. In this she manages to inject an emotional depth despite the light medium, and I think has created a work that is respectful to its subject matter. I absolutely loved it, and think you will too.

One thought on “Potato Peel Pie”

  1. Ooooh great review!

    I just finished reading a very absorbing book and now I'll be tempted to hunt this out...

    This has a whiff of suitable-for-film-adaptation about it - what say you??