If you’re a regular visitor to the Ramblings, you’ve probably gathered that I don’t as a rule read many books which would be called bestsellers; in fact modern fiction rarely appears here unless it’s translated! So you might have been vaguely surprised seeing “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” appear on the TBR in my recent Book Table post; and I was actually a little taken aback too, when Mr. Kaggsy presented it to me as a little gift. Whilst I was impressed that he’d actually found me something I don’t own and hadn’t read, it wasn’t really a title I’d ever considered reading. But as it was a gift, it would have been churlish not to give it a go – and it was very much in contrast to the book I’d been reading which was all about creatives in Paris between 1900 and 1950!

“Potato Peel..” has an intriguing backstory; the book was written by Mary Ann Shaffer, but then completed by her neice Annie Barrows when Shaffer realised she was suffering from a terminal illness. It had always been Shaffer’s ambition to see her book in print, so it’s rather lovely that family completed it for her. The book is an epistolary one, a format I usually like, which tells the story of Juliet, author of a successful wartime newspaper column, who’s struggling with writing in the immediate post-War period. By a somewhat unbelievable series of events, she fetches up on Guernsey, bonds with the residents, and learns about their past. It’s a light read, if I’m honest, that I whizzed through in one setting, and is a book which in many way confuses me.

Bookertalk has written eloquently here about why she didn’t like the book, and I’m in agreement with what she says. I didn’t personally find the writing particularly sparkling, and the characters were fairly interchangable; but my main problem was the fact that I felt there were almost two books here, and they didn’t go well together.

The Channel Islands were occupied during World War 2, and suffered greatly under Nazi rule (as did any occupied territory, really). Juliet sets out to write about one local person’s story under the jackboot, and as she digs out the islanders’ stories there is some really dark material, which you would expect. However, the love story itself is trite and predictable and for me, the light tone of Juliet’s adventures and the romance don’t sit comfortably with the darkness of the war themes. Perhaps in different hands the book would have worked better, but here I felt it didn’t and I actually felt uncomfortable when contrasting the occupation sections with what in effect is a plot that could have come from a lightweight romance novel. The characterisation is broad-brush; the newspaper reporter Gilly Gilbert was particularly hard to stomach; Juliet’s slimy boyfriend frankly unacceptable; and the eventual love interest, Dawsey, could have been a lump of wood…

Guernsey Castle Cornet (Unukorno, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons)

So in the end this wasn’t a book for me, despite Mr. K’s good intentions! It filled an afternoon when I was feeling too whacked after a heavy week at work to read anything serious, but in the end I just felt disappointed by it. I know some love the book; equally others feel strongly that it’s not great. I fall into the latter camp, so I’m afraid this one will go off to the charity shop when they’re collecting again! ;D