Wednesday, October 26, 2011

book review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The backstory: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was one of the two selections for my new book club last month. I reviewed Sister, the other selection, yesterday. Tomorrow I'll opine about our joint discussion of the books, dish on my new book club, and tell you what we're reading for next month.

The basics: "As London is emerging from the shadow of World War II, writer Juliet Ahston discovers her next subject in a book club on Guernsey--a club born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi after its members are discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island." (I liked this description from my library's catalog.)

My thoughts: It's true, I never would have read this book if not for book club. I'm not quite sure why I have such a bias against it, but I did sit down expecting to enjoy it, as I adore epistolary novels. I quite enjoyed the beginning of this novel. Julia is a delightful narrator, and the history of Guernsey was intriguing. Despite these strengths, I soon found myself bored because it was telegraphed from the beginning. There was no surprise or intrigue, and in this case the letters began to impede character development.

The romance was fine. I enjoy a bit of romance sprinkled in, but it was clear from the first letter this serendipitous friendship would become more. In some ways, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is exactly what people say it is: a charming and sweet historical tale. I wasn't charmed, although I would call it charming. Incidentally, I do think the film will be good (it's tentatively set to release in 2013, but is currently in development.) The writing wasn't weak, but I didn't find it to be strong either. I didn't write down a single passage, and I didn't find the voices of the wide variety of letter writers to be varied enough. I frequently found myself forgetting who was writing the letter and had to flip back to its beginning (it's a rare novel I'm glad I didn't read on my Kindle.)

Overall, I found it to be a rather ordinary novel. The peek into Guernsey was lovely, and I enjoyed Juliet. I wished the other characters were more developed, and perhaps in this case the epistolary format should have been abandoned in the second part (or at least interspersed).

The verdict: Remember earlier this year when Jill reviewed Major Pettigrew's Last Stand with two sentences: "If I had to describe this book in one word, I'd say cute. In fact, I think that's all I say." I was tempted to do so here, as it sums up this one quite nicely. If cute and gentle are your thing, then go for it. (Ironically, Jill loved this book, and most people (except Ti!) seem to agree.)

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 290 pages
Publication date: July 29, 2008
Source: library

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  1. Haha I remember that review! It made me laugh! I never did read the Guernsey book I think for the reasons you wrote here. It just seemed sort of cute and ordinary. (I did read the first few pages or so). I will wait and see the movie of this one.

  2. I do like epistolary novels, but this one did not work for me. I know I'm in the minority though!

  3. I sort of feel the same way about this book that you did before you read it. It sounds a little interesting, but I don't really feel all that compelled to read it anytime soon. The reviews I have read have been really positive, so I can't put my finger on why I feel like I wouldn't like it, but I sort of feel it might be a little twee. Thanks for being so candid in your thoughts on it with us.

  4. I read this for book club as well. I agree that it was a charming sort of read. I remember picking it up between two heavier novels and enjoyed it because it was sheer entertainment and didn't require too much attention. I also remember being really sick so snuggled up with a feel good wasn't so bad. I loved Juliet but agree that each character seemed to much like the next. I just saw Jill's review- I felt the same about that novel as well!

  5. I was definitely the Hater of the group. I wasn't won over AT ALL by the writing. I think it just hit the market at a good point in time.

    My book group frowned at me for weeks that that meeting.

  6. I felt the same way you did about this one! I was rather let down because I had heard such great things about it. I found it so-so.

  7. What can I say, my taste is unpredictable. :-D

  8. Sorry this didn't work for you! I loved it but I also like this time period a lot and will devour pretty much anything set in WWII.

  9. Nice review -- I've avoided this one, too, for some indiscernible and arbitrary reason -- and based on your thoughts, I think I'm going to pass it up. It sounds cute, and I like cute, but my TBR is just waaaaay too long for 'just cute' right now.

  10. I think charming is how I would describe this book (same for Major Pettigrew). I passed it to my Mom and she called me to say she was halfway through it couldn't go on! Sometimes it is hard to know what people will like!

  11. I'm glad you liked it for the most part. I loved it mainly because I have a thing for books set in WWII and epistolary novels. But the more time that passes since I've read it, the more the glow wears away. I loved it at the time, but it's definitely not on my list of favorites for some of the reasons you mentioned. I can't wait for the movie, though. I'll link to your review on War Through the Generations.


Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!