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.