The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Authors: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Published: 2009
Website: Amazon Page Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society takes place in the aftermath of World War II; and the novel is comprised entirely of letters sent to and from a set of family members, friends, and strangers who eventually become friends. The story centers on Juliet (a young writer who has recently published a well-received collection of newspaper columns) and her search for a new subject for a book. As Juliet pursues an idea, the reader is slowly shown each character’s backstory and introduced to the people with whom Juliet interacts.

Although the subject matter of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is, as befits its title, inventive, it was a fun book to read because of Shaffer and Barrows’ use of the letters to convey emotion in interesting ways. Just as dialogue in a non-epistolary novel usually proceeds from one scene to the next as the reader would expect, so too do Shaffer and Barrows’ letters. And as the novel’s series of letters hesitantly make their way from a writing desk to their recipient, emotions are delayed, outcomes are changed, and plots are foiled because of the nature of slow long-distance communication. It was slightly agonizing in this more accelerated age of email to constantly wait as characters interacted with one another by mail; but as someone who can’t remember the last time it took anyone more than a few hours to respond to any form of communication, reading this book was probably a good experience.

Shaffer and Barrows manage to convey such a wide range of tone in their hundreds of painstakingly created dispatches that the letters actually seem to be a collection from an archive. And I think it is the ability to make a cohesive story out of an archived collection which gives this book its charm and freshness.


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