Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is set in January 1946 as London emerges from World War II. The main character, Juliet Ashton, is a well known writer who, during the war, wrote a column under the name Izzy Bickerstaff. As her columns are getting published into a book after the war, Juliet is looking for a more serious topic to write about. She unexpectedly receives a letter from a man named Dawsey Adams on the island of Guernsey. He found her name inside a book by Charles Lamb. Dawsey writes to her because books are very rare on Guernsey and he wants to acquire more for the islands book club: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Juliet becomes interested in the book club and corresponds with Dawsey and other islanders for several months. The islanders talk most about Elizabeth McKenna, an islander who had already been dead by the time Juliet begins to correspond. She learns of how the club got started, and decides to visit the island of Geurnsey. While she is there, she decides to write about Elizabeth Mckenna because she was central to the life on Guernsey. When she arrives, she begins to develop strong relationships with people on the island. She grows very fond of Kit, Elizabeth McKenna's daughter and eventually applies for adoption. Juliet falls in love with Dawsey as well, and they end up getting married. Her drastic life decisions while on Guernsey fulfill the joy and self-fulfillment that she wanted all along.
The main character is Juliet Ashton. She describes herself in a letter, "(my hair) is now short and curly instead of long and lank. I had a light rinse too- Susan and Madame said it would bring out the golden highlights in my "beautiful chestnut curls." (16) However that is only her physical appearance. I think that Juliet is an independent and strong willed person. Although Juliet loves her career, she is tired of being known just for her wit and longs to write something more serious. In the begining of the novel she is quite unhappy. "Why am I so melancholy? ...the truth is that I'm gloomy- gloomier than I ever was during the war." (7) As she starts corresponding with the islanders, she gains insipration. Dawsey Adams is the first person Juliet comes into contact with from the island of Guernsey. He enables the other islanders to conact her and encourages them to share their experiences with her and to help with her article. Dawsey and Juliet are similar in that they both grew up without their parents. Dawsey also had a stuttering problem when he was younger. Because of those two things, Dawsey is very shy. However, he is able to make a close group of friends when the literary society forms. After corresponding with Juliet for a while, they become close friends. He ends up falling in love with Juliet but is too shy to admit his feelings, Juliet is also too afraid to act on her feelings. Ulitmatley, they end up getting married. Sidney Stark is Juliet's publisher and brother of her best friend. Although they share a professional relationship, he may be her closest confidant and friend. Sidney is extremely level-headed and functions as the voice of reason for Juliet throughout the novel. He is very honest with Juliet and she trusts and values their friendship. Although she does not directly communicate with Juliet, Elizabeth McKenna may be one of the most important characters in the book. She is the mother of Kit, and a good friend to the islanders. Much like Juliet, Elizabeth was very personable and could easily earn the trust of anyone through her kindness. Elizabeth was also very rash, much like Juliet, "Elizabeth gathered herself up. 'Come on,' she says. I'm not going to sit inside waiting for them. I'm going to town to seek out my enemy. I'm going to look at him, we're not animals in a cage- they are. They're stuck on this island with us, same as we're stuck with them. Come on, let's go stare." (140) The islanders consistently tell Juliet stories about how Elizabeth once did them a favor, or offered encouraging words in a difficult time. Even through the tough times, Elizabeth remains positive and looks for the fun in life.
Many important themes are referenced in the book, the most important would be the magic of reading. "That's what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit will lead you onto a third book." (11) Each member of the society recounts how reading and attending the meetings helped them through the tough times. Other themes would be courage and standing strong in the face of danger. Elizabeth is an example of both of those.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is written in letters. Although the core of the story revolves around Juliet and Elizabeth McKenna, it's essence is about more than just two people. It celebrates life, love, courage, and above all, the love for reading and writing. Reading and attending the meetings helped every member of the society throughout the difficult times. This novel is a very uplifting story, but it never shies away from the horrors of the Second World War either. It doesn't hide from the truths about death, torture, or survival. One of the most moving moments in the book was when a concentration camp survivor found it hard to tell her story to someone who did not experience it because how could they fully understand? The tragic stories of life under nazi occupation is what truly animates the novel. With it's humor and optimism, the Guernsey Literary affirms the power of books to help people through tough times.