Monday, December 29, 2008

Fabulous book. Too bad about the title.

I have just finished reading the most wonderful novel with a wretched title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This title ranks right up there with Snowflower and the Secret Fan and is therefore destined to a be a sleeper for awhile. Ignore the title. Even more importantly, ignore the bookjacket blurb. Just start reading right away. I never would have done so if I hadn't been stuck in the Charlotte airport, forced to choose between potato peel something or other and Danielle Steele. Luckily for me, I chose really, really well and I have not been able to put it down until just now. Full of heartbreakingly funny characters who only make appearances in letters, this novel is the story of a writer who accidentally discovers an island full of extraordinary people who survived WWII together. One means of resistance on this island during its years of German Occupation was a "literary society" that kept the islanders meeting together after curfew to talk about books. Though none of the members was particularly literary to begin with, they all seem to have gained something from the group and the reading. One man only reads the letters of Seneca over and over again; one never fully recovers from Cathy's ghost scratching at the window in Wuthering Heights (and who has, really?); and one falls for Charles Lamb. The latter, Dawsey Adams, finds an address in the Lamb book, and writes to its previous owner to ask if there are any other Lamb works out there. The previous owner, Juliet Ashton, happens to be a writer herself in London, and here begins a correspondence that brings her to the island of Guernsey in 1946, ostensibly in search of a new story to write about. The entire novel is told through letters, which is a large part of its charm. And of course there is a love story. This is a pretty botched summary but I am still full of Christmas ham and unable to focus too intently on this entry. I may go read the novel again instead. It is that good.