The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Summary

Mary Ann Shaffer

Synopsis

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was written by librarian and editor Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece Annie Barrows, who contributed to the work once Shaffer's health began to decline. Published in 2008, the novel quickly achieved critical acclaim and commercial success.

The novel's heroine, Juliet Ashton, is a moderately successful writer who finds herself homeless and restless in London after World War II. Juliet's spur-of-the-moment journey to Guernsey Island, provoked by a letter from a stranger who has found her address in a book she once owned, takes her away from the life of glamour and superficial relationships that she thought she loved and exposes her to something new.

The novel unfolds in epistolary fashion, with the story first told in letters between Juliet and her publisher while she is on Guernsey. Juliet's time in London is documented in letters between Juliet, her publisher, and her newfound associates on Guernsey Island. Juliet forges friendships with the islanders based on their shared literary interests. Her initial contact person, Dawsey Adams, writes to her because books are scarce on Guernsey, and he would like to obtain more. Dawsey tells Juliet the secret of the titular book club, which was formed as a hasty alibi when its members were discovered violating the curfew set by German forces occupying the island during the war. The society brings together islanders from all walks of life, all of whom find solace in literature during the German occupation. The impromptu book club embodies a theme already known to most book lovers: a good book can help us through even the most trying of times.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is largely lighthearted and comical in tone, but the story of Elizabeth McKenna and her German lover bring a tragic note to the novel. Elizabeth functions as a foil of sorts to Juliet. The two never meet, as Elizabeth dies in a concentration camp long before Juliet comes to Guernsey, but it is through stories of Elizabeth that Juliet discovers what is missing from her supposedly fulfilling life—love and community. Juliet finds these on Guernsey Island and eventually fills many of the gaps created by Elizabeth's death. When Juliet takes over the task of raising Elizabeth's daughter, Kit, and allowing a romantic relationship with Dawsey to ripen, she finds a fulfillment unavailable to her in London. Juliet's and Elizabeth's relationships reveal a second theme: love is not always where we expect—or want—to find it.

Summary

When Mary Ann Shaffer’s best-selling novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society (2008) opens, the protagonist, Juliet Ashton, is living in London. It is 1946, and many London neighborhoods lie in rubble.World War II is just over, but its effects remain. During the war, Juliet wrote a column under the pseudonym of Izzy Bickerstaff. After the war, her publisher and close friend, Sidney Stark, published those columns as a collection. As readers are introduced to Juliet, she is on a book tour, promoting that collection, which is called Izzy Bickerstaff Goes to War. The book earns enough money to provide Juliet with a modest but comfortable wage; she has time to contemplate writing another book.However, she is stumped as to what to write about. She has written a second book, a biography of Ann Brontë, the lesser known sister of the novelists Charlotte and Emily. The book was fun to write, but it attracted few readers. So Juliet is searching for an intriguing topic that might not only be fun to write but will appeal to a larger audience.

It is at this time that she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a farmer on Guernsey Island. Guernsey is one of several islands that are located in the English Channel between France and Britain. Guernsey is basically a farming community, visited by a few tourists but fairly well isolated from the rest of British culture. Dawsey has written his letter because he found Juliet’s name on a second-hand book of poems he bought. The poet is Charles Lamb, and Dawsey would like to read more about Lamb. So he asks if Juliet might put him in touch with a bookseller in London. It is through Dawsey that a correspondence is established between Juliet and several other residents of Guernsey. In the process, Juliet learns about the island, the people who live there, as well as the harsh conditions that these people suffered during the German occupation of their island during the war.

In the process of reading Dawsey’s letters, Juliet also learns about how the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society came about. The story goes like this: the residents of Guernsey were under a strict curfew while the German soldiers controlled the island. The Germans had surprised them one day, landing on their shores is large numbers and taking over their lives. The German plan was to gain control of the islands, set up forts and airports, and then launch their attack of Britain from the islands. To feed the soldiers, the Germans demanded food from the local people, which meant that many of the farmers had to give up their livestock and large portions...

(The entire section is 1061 words.)