Books About Letters: "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society"
This was a long awaited, much requested read for us at Flea Market Love Letters H.Q. Many, many folks met me -- Hi, I'm Liz! -- with incredulous stares when I admitted, tail between my legs that No, I had not actually read "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
Well, that all changes today as I take you through my review -- as a vintage love letter archivist -- of this love-letter-to-the-letter beloved novel. That enough love for ya? Now on to some letters!
Told through letters "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society" tells the story of young English writer Juliet as she navigates life post World War II. Whilst completing an exhaustive if totally non-stimulating tour for her latest book Juliet is contacted by a fellow by the name of Dawsey from Guernsey. During the Nazi occupation of the island, Dawsey very much enjoyed second-hand book from her library that came into his possession. After villagers start writing Juliet about their Literary and Potato Peel Society, she must investigate herself and ventures to Guernsey where she learns of every day heroism and the perseverance of the self during unimaginable conditions.
There, has that hooked you yet? There's a witty publisher, an unappealing love interest, a stubborn yet lovable little girl, a whimsical neighbor with a fondness for a pet parrot, and more characters that will sweep you up and off your feet in this novel.
For a note on the technical...this novel hits it out of the park. I read a lot of letters. That makes it hard for me to enjoy books about letters. Some of my biggest 'bugga-boos' when reading novels about letters?
Word choice, for one. Syntax and rhythm matter, they are the glue to your believability in historical fiction. Believe it or not folks in the 1910s, 1920s, and 1940s talked about race, sex, gender, you name it. But rarely did they write letters only about those things. Striking a balance between realism and exposition can be beyond tricky.
Then there's the speed with which these things were expected to travel in post. That speed compared to how quickly your author wants you to believe they were sent and received makes all the difference for me. In the novel I'm reviewing today, there was clear and deliberate attention paid to the dates and places of the fictional letters, lending a real hand to the story that impressed me.
Finally, what would you put in a letter? If you've been reading Flea Market Love Letters for any amount of time you understand that people put all sorts of things in letters from weather, to what they've done that day, to what they are seeing out the window. This novel was written by letter writers. They understand the magic that is the impulse to write a letter when at the same time it is a leisure activity. It comes across in their characters and ultimately the story itself is built on that: good letters.
Want to test at home to see if a "Book About Letters" passes the Flea Market Love Letters muster? It must have a dash of all three elements perfectly blended. And "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society" has them shaken, not stirred.
I cannot think why I didn't read this any sooner! I suppose after a time it became a sort of omen...what if I read it and hated it? I would have to lie rather than face the rejection of the some near dozen readers who Tweeted, emailed, and messaged me on Instagram that I simply had to read this. So there folks, I have read one of the most well-toted love letter books.
Do you have a book in mind about letters you think I should read and review for "Books About Letters"? Let me know! Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime you can join myself and The Hand Written Letter Appreciation Society on Twitter on April 20th, 2021 at 7:30PM GMT for a screening of the film inspired by the novel. Get your popcorn ready!