This is a truly delightful book. I worried before it arrived that an amusing and whimsical title might have persuaded me to request something which would turn out not to be very good, but I was wholly wrong. I enjoyed it immensely; it is witty, erudite without being smug, interesting, laugh-out-loud funny in places and very moving in others.
The novel is set in 1946 and is in the form of letters, mainly to and from the central character, Juliet Ashton, a successful writer who becomes, wholly coincidentally, involved with a group of people on Guernsey who lived through the wartime German Occupation. The characters are thoroughly engaging and Mary Ann Shaffer (although born in the USA) manages to capture the English voice of the time beautifully: the prose is a pleasure to read.
It is very hard to summarise any of the developing stories without giving away more than I'd have wanted to know in advance, so I won't try, but the book has something to say about all kinds of things. Among them are friendship, suffering, forgiveness, goodness and wickedness, the resilience of humanity in desperate circumstances, how reading may influence us and the history of the Channel Islanders during the war. All this makes it sound a bit worthy and turgid, but it's neither - anything but, in fact. I never felt that I was being lectured, the history forms a really interesting and beautifully evoked backdrop to a thoroughly involving story and the observations on other things are either implicit in the doings of characters I really cared about or made directly with wit and flair. And there's a really tense will-they-won't-they love story which Jane Austen would have been proud of and which kept me in nail-biting suspense right up to the last page.
One theme in the book is the impact of reading on hitherto unliterary characters, which carries a risk of being patronising or sentimental. Shaffer has a sure feel, though, and avoids both. She does, naturally, use the device to give her views on some of her favourite authors, but it's very wittily and sometimes touchingly done. For example, one of her characters says of Wilfred Owen, "...he knew what was what and called it by its right name. I was there, too, at Passchendaele, and I knew what he knew but I could never put it into words for myself." As a definition of poetry, I think you could do a lot worse than that. And in the same letter there is a paragraph about Yeats's omission of Great War poetry from his Oxford Book of Modern Verse which made me smile and brought a great lump to my throat at the same time.
Another of Shaffer's characters writes, "Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books." That's a very dangerous thing to write in a novel lest it be turned against you, but there is no chance of that here. This is a very good book indeed and I kept wanting to get back to reading it. I was completely carried along by it and when it ended I was very sorry that there was no more. I urge you to read it. I loved it and I'm sure others will too.