Title: “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”
Author: Mary Ann Shaffer
Genre: Historical Fiction
The art of letter writing has gone by the wayside as electronic communication has advanced in the last few decades. Mary Ann Shaffer writes her historic novel “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” in the form of a trail of letter correspondence and reminds us what the world was like before the “read” message symbol was created.
Shaffer starts her novel in 1945 in London right after World War II. Juliet Ashton, the main character, is a writer who wrote a humorous column during the war under the pseudonym Izzy Bickerstaff. With the war in the past, Ashton is looking to find a more serious topic to base her next novel off of.
As Ashton begins this journey, she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams who lives in Guernsey. An island located between France and Britain, Guernsey, and its residents, was hit hard by WWII. German soldiers took control of the island and destroyed much of the written history and literature. When Adams finds a book with Ashton’s name in it, he writes to her asking for more reading material for his book club, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
After a few letters back and forth, Ashton hears from several inhabitants of the island Guernsey. One name that is mentioned quite frequently is Elizabeth McKenna, a woman who was taken by the Germans to a concentration camp. Ashton learns of McKenna’s life particularly through the words of Dawsey who is has taken care of her daughter Kit for the four years since her death.
Once Ashton learns more about her friends through their letters, she decides to travel to Guernsey to meet them in person. The humor, wit, and charm felt by reading their words on a page becomes present in real life. Their stories are heartfelt and help Ashton discover what her next book topic should be.
I chose to re-read Shaffer’s book after first picking it up in high school because I loved the format she wrote it in. Almost no one will opt to write a handwritten note sent through the snail mail system these days as texting and email has created instantaneous communication. However, I believe that the some of the personality and emotion associated with letter writing is lost with these electronic channels.
In “Pride and Prejudice,” Elizabeth and Jane would spend hours a day writing friends about their daily lives and note-worthy interactions. These letters would be the only time that their friends would correspond with each other and through the words on the page, they could feel what the other one was feeling when the words were written.
Today, text messages have little to no emotion or feeling attached to them. Sure, you can use emojis to add emphasis but a person’s tone is completely irrelevant. Sarcasm can be completely lost or even worse, taken the wrong way entirely through texting. The deep feeling and emotion the Elizabeth Bennet conveyed through her handwritten notes is missing in this form of correspondence.