The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

2011 April 2011 Book Review Tommy Clarkson

By Tommy Clarkson from the April 2011 Edition

Written by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Perhaps, similar to that of a developed taste for a well aged, single malt scotch, the acquired appreciation for a delicious, dense and crumbly, marbled blue cheese, or – for some – the toasty taste of a firm, even burning, smooth drawing, cigar, our palette for good literature also evolves and matures . . . by the way, sinful ne‟er-do-well that I am, I‟ll just take three of each please!

(Maybe for some, in concert with these accrued and developed tastes that might accompany aging, comes the capacity to laugh at ourselves and ponder our mortality. Top this with a possible accompanying capability to simply not take life all too seriously and we have the beginnings of a reasonably self actualized person. If nothing else, I suspect, one with more enjoyable evenings than most!)

But what – you might ask – does this all have to do with a book written as a collection of communications between a fictionalized English writer and an array of thoroughly enjoyable characters living on the British Channel Island of Guernsey, not far from the coast of

France, shortly after WWII? In all candor, I‟m not altogether sure myself! It‟s just that as I commenced to write, such thoughts popped into my head as somehow germane to this marvelous book!

In that regard, over the course of years, I‟ve occasionally read the phrase “a thoroughly delightful read” and wondered at that. As I savored each of its 278 pages I came to fully understand the apt application of those three words!

For example, when talking about a particularly impactful piece of, the protagonist makes a most interesting observation in saying,

“Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” Later on, one of her characters observes the, oh so correct, truism that “Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books.” Indeed, delightful observations those!

Ms. Shaffer and her niece often couch incidents and descriptions with expressive, fun to say words that one all too seldom encounters anymore, such as, “snarky”, “smarm”, “skulking”, and “coddle” or describes one rather dislikeable individual as “feckless, flighty (and) cold-hearted” while yet another, simply, as a “pernicious old bat!”

Speaking of such, the island busybody “writes” of herself, “I take no pride in my prescience. It would not be Christian.” The authors well portray her as one who “lives on her wrath”, “(A) woman too good for daily wear” and (one) “with that doleful mug of hers, all piety and no sense.” Have not each of us known one or two such as this? Or what of the young female Nazi collaborator and her “mean little runt” of a German soldier lover and how “The two of them together benasty the mind.”

Another indication of these ladies descriptive manner of writing may be seen in this, “I feel as though I‟ve emerged from a black tunnel and found myself in the middle of a carnival. I don‟t particularly care for carnivals, but after the tunnel, it‟s delicious.”

At other times their observations are shakingly deep and pithy such as a discussion of a deceased acquaintance. “(They say) „Life goes on‟. What nonsense, I thought, of course it doesn‟t. It‟s death that goes on; Ian is dead now and will be dead tomorrow and next year and forever. There‟s no end to that.” That‟s pretty succinct and fodder for no little contemplation and consideration.

Of the opposite nature was this light, unfinished thought, “… where he was mauled by a duck and had to return home.” The mind reels at what manner of small quacking fowl might wreak such havoc! And at other times, deep and ponderable thoughts arise such as a discussion when someone speaks of their belief in Calvinistic predestination. One of the figures in the book who has survived a horrific Nazi concentration camp says, “If there is Predestination, then God is the devil.” The principal‟s well reasoned response was that “No one could argue with that – what kind of God would intentionally design Ravensbrück ?” (A German women‟s prison camp wherein scores of thousands died.)

Beyond the great characters and interesting story line, the writers well capture human nature as in this which well describes something each of us all too often experiences, “My worries travel about my head on their well-worn path. . .”

This short novel is as fun and thought provoking as it is heart warming and emotion evoking. I heartily encourage you to read it and enjoy!.

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