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Customer Review

473 of 508 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unexpected delight, 23 Jun. 2008
This review is from: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Hardcover)
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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.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 17 Mar 2009 12:51:48 GMT
Grace says:
What a well written and informative review. Full marks! I haven't read this book yet but a valued friend, and fellow reader, recommended it to me and I am sure I shall agree with every word you wrote.

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Mar 2009 15:21:35 GMT
Sid Nuncius says:
Why, thank you! Most kind. Glad you found it helpful


Posted on 30 May 2009 00:52:06 BDT
This book wet my appetite for more about the occupation and whilst I thoroughly enjoyed it, I prefer the lessor known local author's novel 'Rachel's Shoe' by Peter Lihou.
The letters were (for me at least) an original treatment which I first resisted, then found totally captivating, then grew slightly weary of. I miss not having the drama of an ending to a story and the letters inevitably led to a petering out rather than a conclusion. I was also unsure how authentic some of the names used were which niggled me by reminding me that the author was from the other side of the world. Having said this I still enjoyed the book a great deal and as it led me to Rachel's Shoe, I am certainly very pleased that I bought it.

Posted on 5 Dec 2009 19:36:29 GMT
RachelReads says:
This is an excellent review, well written and informative. You have convinced me to go out and buy this book

Posted on 17 Apr 2010 03:52:14 BDT
Readalot says:
Thank you for an excellent review. You've really given a sense of the essence of the book without telling the whole story. Left me in no doubt that I wanted to read it. Looking forward to it. Thanks again.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Apr 2010 07:08:07 BDT
Sid Nuncius says:
Thank you for your very kind post, and for taking the trouble to comment. I'm glad you enjoyed the review and I'm sure you'll enjoy the book. I've re-read it since I wrote this and enjoyed it just as much second time around, which is always an excellent sign.

Posted on 18 Oct 2012 05:47:17 BDT
Reader says:
I echo this review, a warm and wonderful book, I could not put it down.
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