Book Reviewed: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
The title of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society really bothers me. I hate this title. It's too long, too precious, and "potato" is a cover word that I associate with "boring." When I started reading this book for my book club earlier this week, I thought maybe the title was just an unfortunate mistake and that I was going to like the book anyway. Well, in the end, the cutesiness of the title infused too much of the book for me to like it.
Things started off well. Society is written as a series of letters between the protagonist - London writer Juliet Ashton - and a variety of people a year after World War II. Juliet ends up receiving a letter from a man named Dawsey Adams, a pig farmer on the island of Guernsey, located in the English Channel. Dawsey mentions the title society to Juliet, and she soon becomes intrigued by the society and all its members. She exchanges letters with society members and friends from home, all of them becoming connected through their stories of survival and reading.
At first, this is all very interesting. I had never heard of the German occupation of Guernsey throughout the war, and I was fascinated by this little-known bit of history. (Also, there's a lot of talk of books and reading!) And at first, the characters are endearing. But by the end, it all got very twee. I can tolerate a pretty good deal of sentimentality and even sweetness in fiction, but there's a certain point where cuteness becomes toxic for my reading brain. Even some of the trashiest romances I read have more substance than this. I feel a little bad disliking this book, as so many people do love it. Let's just say I am not the ideal audience for this kind of thing, and it might be a bit hard for me to discuss at book club. There's a certain kind of preciousness in books like this - about friendship and love and the power of positivity - that I just can't take.
Finally, I should mention the one thing that bothered me about this book more than the sugary sweetness. It's supposed to be made up of letters by lots of very different people. Then why do they all have the EXACT SAME WRITING STYLE?! Different characters use different phrases and whatnot, but they all seem to break up their paragraphs and sentences in the same manner. Also, they are all awfully descriptive in the same way, a trait that I don't even share with my other writer friends, let alone with people from a variety of backgrounds and educational experiences. As a writer, this style problem bothered me so much that it made it a little hard to enjoy the book at all.