Categories
Guernsey

Seventy years of Liberation

It’s Liberation Day in Guernsey, 70 years since those aboard HMS Bulldog accepted the surrender of the Nazi occupiers, and the island’s liberators we welcomed into St Peter Port by a crowd which included my half-starved grandfather. The legacy of bunkers and fortifications built into the island is still plain to see.

When I went to school I thought nothing of the fact that there was a German bunker in the playground till I moved to London. Or that the breathtaking walks along the island’s south coast, were punctuated by enormous gun emplacements, part of Hitler’s ‘ring of steel’.

A couple of years ago I was surprised to hear the Bishop of Southampton reading one of my poems Root and Branch in his Liberation Day sermon.  Here is another poem of mine, written almost thirty years ago, about the island. I was in my twenties when I wrote it, but it is one I can still read without cringing — although the idea that the bunkers have blended in so much that they have lost their history is wrongheaded. But it is infused with a longing for home that still grips me. Luckily I return in a couple of weeks for a short visit.

The remembering cliffs

The cliffs are full of faces, great granite heads
petrified just as they lifted from sleep.
Stone heads of Martello towers, blank looks
from the concrete helmets of German gun emplacements
now so assimilated with the granite and the gorse
that they have lost their particular history.

These cliffs are full of faces, a cliff path
inevitably winds back into past summers
bringing to mind voices in the wind, my family
talking as they walked the remembering cliffs.
It is a haunted coastline and every time a corner’s turned
I meet my recollection of those who trod here.

I meet myself as a child who thought God had been born
floating face down in these waters,
His face big as a cliff’s face, His body a small island.
It was an untaught myth; my secret belief
and life must have teemed about Him like the wrasse
and the gulls and the mackerel crowding close to these cliffs.

The cliffs are full of faces that stare out to find Him
and I stare too — through the slits and cracks
of my fortified disbelief, of my adulthood,
into His comforting presence — into the sea.
Now the sea seems part of a once-swollen certainty
that has yearly drawn away like a lowering tide.

Below: there is a particular cliff head on the south coast just east of Icart Point that always makes me think of a head rising up from sleep. Hence the image in the poem.

cliff head 27 March

Categories
Guernsey Guernsey Literature Novels

Victor Hugo and Guernsey

A windblown Victor Hugo in Candie Gardens, Guernsey
A windblown Victor Hugo in Candie Gardens, Guernsey

Having fallen down a flight of stairs two days ago, I have spent a good deal of time on my back applying icepacks to a torn thigh muscle. While trying to write in a horizontal position, I realise that I am feeling homesick for Guernsey.

I’ve been glancing at a translation of Victor Hugo poems by Harry Guest called (fittingly enough) The distance, The Shadows I bought in a second-hand book store recently.  Victor Hugo (1802-85) was exiled on Guernsey between October 1855 and 1870. There is little or nothing explicitly about the island in the Harry Guest translation, but it has made me think about the novel  The Toilers on the Sea (Les Travailleurs de la mer pub. 1866 and set in Guernsey). It is very gothic tale, features a titanic struggle with a giant octopus, stormy seas, and has the temerity to suggesting that Guernsey is a rather spooky place.

Gilliat lived in Saint Sampson, where he was far from popular. For this there was a reason. In the first place, he lived in a ‘haunted house’. In the country parts of Jersey and Guernsey – sometimes in the towns—you find a house the entrance to which is quite blocked up. Holly-bushes choke the door, whilst ugly planks are nailed across the windows. The glass in the window-frames of the upper storeys has been broken, and the frames look gaunt and hideous. In the back yard, the grass has sprouted up between the stones, and the wall is broken down in many places. If there be a garden, it is overgrown with nettles, and thornbushes; whilst insects of strange appearances about in it. The chimneys are ready to fall, and in palces the roof has given way. The rooms through the shattered casements show a scene of ruin and desolation; the woodwork is worm eaten, and the stone decayed. The paper hangs fromt he wall in strips, one overlapping the other, and disclosing the various periods at which they have been affixed. Long cobwebs, choked with innumerable flies, show the undisturbed empire of generations of spiders. Fragments of broken crockery can be noticed on the shelves. It is not unreasonable to suppose such houses to be haunted; and it is believed that the Prince of Darkness pays them nocturnal visits.

Houses resemble those who dwell in them, and can, as it were, die. The breath of superstition is the destruction of the dwelling; then it has a terrible aspect. These weird-looking abodes are not rare in the Channel Islands; all agricultural and seafaring classes have strong faith in the active agency of Satan.

Victor_Hugo-Octopus
Victor Hugo’s octopus with his ‘VH’ initials in its tentacles.

While my personal experience of several spooky things on the island, means I will happily suspend my disbelief and enjoy such passages, this sort of thing is played down on the island. Typical is David Shayer in Victor Hugo in Guernsey (Guernsey Historical Monograph No 21. Published by the Toucan Press, Guernsey, C.I. 1987), objects from a Guernsey perspective:

Hugo’s depiction of the islanders generally has not been all that enthusiastically endorsed by their descendants. One wonders how close he came to ordinary life. Certainly he amassed a wealth of detail concerning island customs and sea matters by talking to knowledgeable individuals, but this was of the nature of research rather than of first-hand experience. Some of the Guernsey surnames are correct—Tostevin, Mauger, Brouard – but the islanders tend to appear as French Frenchmen rather than as Guernsey Frenchmen, and the unusual combination of French ancestry and English loyalty seems to have baffled him somewhat…. While it can be said with certainty that there was no small degree of superstition in Guernsey at the beginning of the 19th century, it is unfortunate that Hugo gives the impression in his opening chapters that the island was universally riddled with it to the exclusion of every other attitude.

It is the opening chapters that I most like, however, and make me feel most homesick. David Shayer was right in that Hugo’s characters are definitely Frenchmen in Guernsey jumpers.

If you happen to find yourself in Guernsey, Hauteville House, where Hugo lived, is a fascinating place to visit.

Categories
A Guernsey Double Chiara Beebe Guernsey Guernsey Literature Music

‘A Return to Sarnia’ has its premiere

P1070260
Peter Kenny and Chiara Beebe

Chiara Beebe’s piece A Return To Sarnia, was given its premiere by the Guernsey Sinfonietta on Wednesday 6th August in St Peter Port’s Town Church. It was conducted by Sebastian Grand, and featured an authoritative young baritone Casey-Joe Rumens.

It was spellbinding.  It made my hair stand on end. It was an amazing thing to hear something I wrote when I was 21 being so intuitively interpreted decades later, and transformed beyond my wildest expectations.

Featuring a strong cello part, trumpets, strings and voice the piece managed to combine mystery with an emotional clarity, which gave it great power. For me it was an unforgettable experience.

Just 22, I think Chiara has an intriguing future, and I am flattered that at this stage of her career she used one of my poems.

Categories
A Guernsey Double Guernsey Music

Chiara Beebe, and ‘A Return to Sarnia’

Chiara Beebe
Chiara Beebe

August 6th sees the premiere of a new piece by Chiara Beebe. She is a 22 year old composer, cellist and singer born on Guernsey, whose piece A Return to Sarnia, based on a poem by Peter Kenny, will be performed as part of Terra Nova, an evening of modern and new music, by The Guernsey Sinfonietta. 

PK: So how did you get started as a composer?

CB: Well, I only really began to consider myself a composer when I went to University – I found the way it was taught at school quite restrictive. At the University of Manchester it was taught in a completely different way that allowed me to express myself exactly as I wanted to with fewer boundaries. I was very lucky to have studied composition there with Camden Reeves who I cannot thank enough for his incredible energy and passion! I mainly enjoy writing for singers and strings (would you guess I’m a cellist and singer) because I think there is something very special about the use of words in music, but I do hope to keep writing a variety of pieces.

PK: So what have you been working on lately? I understand you like music to be performed with a dash of theatre.

CB: Yes I do. My recent compositions have included a setting of selections from Dante’s Divine Comedy, which was written for eight men and solo soprano. I often use space in my pieces and in this instance I placed the singers around the hall in a circle with the soprano solo on the balcony – reflecting the journey from hell to heaven and the circles of his inferno. This was the piece for which I was awarded the Proctor-Gregg Prize and I really enjoyed creating it.

I also used theatricality in a piece for baritone solo, cello, trumpet and snare drum which used an extended metaphor of a bird as a prisoner of war. I feel that a lot can be added to music by using space as a parameter – it’s something that also makes the live performance unique and can captivate an audience.

PK: I wish I’d seen them. Do you have a particular approach to composition?

CB: I take influence from pretty much any experiences I’ve had. I play in a lot of orchestras and choirs and generally the repertoire I am playing at the time influences what I am writing. I like parts of all of the periods of musical history and think there is a lot to be learned from all of them, up to the present day – I try and listen to as many concerts of new music as I can. The music I write tends to be quite programmatic as I work best with a poem or story in mind, the tonality or nature of the music tends to come directly from the words or story and varies from piece to piece. I don’t have any special systems or method in my approach, but I normally do a lot of thinking and brainstorming, then do lots of sketches until what I want is clear in my mind. Then I’ll write it down and work from there. Compositions can always evolve and I always make sure I get second opinions and talk through it with friends, whether musical or not, to get a new perspective or clarify my ideas.

PK: So tell me more about your new piece A Return to Sarnia.

CB: Well, as you know I have used your poem A Return as the basis for this piece. I chose it because for me it evoked the feelings of coming home and feeling grounded and safe. It’s very difficult to put into words (why I don’t write the lyrics myself!) but this poem reminds me of how I feel whenever I come home to Guernsey from wherever I am. It’s such a wonderful place and I can’t help but grin every time I see it emerge through the airplane window with my Guernsey Press in hand. As you can tell I’m quite passionate about this beautiful little island I call home! With this in mind, the piece is about that journey of coming home. I have used a string orchestra, solo baritone and three trumpets – who are hidden from the view of the audience. The strings act as accompaniment to the voice, often with rising and falling dynamics reflective of the sea or the wind whereas the trumpets play in a different key at various points in the piece. Their melody is split up and in the wrong order and with each repetition it reorders itself to finally state a melody us Guerns are all familiar with…

PK: I can’t wait to hear it at the premiere. I’ve seen the score, and as far as I can tell it’s a stunning piece. And I’m really flattered that you used some of my words of course.

CB: No problem, I’m thrilled you allowed me the permission to do it. As soon as I lay my hands on A Guernsey Double I knew there would be something in it for me to use – what a fantastic collection of poetry. I have tried writing my own text before with little success so I am in complete admiration for what you do – I’ll stick to the music!

PK: So what’s next for you? I know you’ve been living in Italy for several months…

CB: I love performing and composing music but I am currently pursuing a career in the music business. Having graduated from Manchester, I have now moved to Milan where I am studying for a Masters in International Business Management. I’m absolutely loving it out there, and my Italian is getting better by the day! I’ve also kept a little blog mainly for friends and family called Chiara Alla Milanese (which also translates as ‘Chiara in breadcrumbs’ but I thought that was amusing). It is a really fun way of keeping track of what life is like in a new country. Aside from the course itself, I keep myself busy with orchestras and choirs in Milan as well as playing and receiving tutoring at the Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi and composing of course! I also currently work for Constella Ballet and Orchestra based in London, as well as for a composer of TV and film based locally and Music Connected, a social connectivity site for musicians which is in development and will be doing a six month placement with a production music company in Milan from January before I will move to London. As you can see I like to keep busy – I love all aspects of music and like to keep myself immersed in all of it!

PK: Thanks Chiara… See you at the premiere!

Categories
A Guernsey Double Guernsey Guernsey Literature

La Gran’mère, a Guernsey goddess

granmere%202I am an idolater. This is not something many of us can say in this godless age.

My Goddess is somewhere between three and five thousand years old. She was hewn from a large lump of granite until, around the time of the Romans, she was carved again, adding the garments and, possibly, the face she wears now.

She is known as La Gràn’Mère du Chim’tière, in the Guernsey French of Marie De Garis — whose Folklore of Guernsey (1975) is a peerless source of information about the island’s traditions— or La Gran’mère du Chimquière; the Grandmother of the Cemetery. And she stands just outside the consecrated ground of St Martin’s Parish church, next to the gate that opens into the churchyard. Those who walk into the charming parish church pass something that has existed twice as long as Christianity itself.

She is a bone fide graven image. You can tell this because, in 1860, a zealous churchwarden called Tourel grew furious at the reverence being paid to her by parishioners and ordered the La Gran’mère to be destroyed. This desecration was successfully achieved, and she was broken in half. Such was the outcry among local inhabitants, however, that she was mended with cement and relocated to her current position. To this day offerings of flowers and coins are left on her head.

The Guide to the Parish Church of St. Martin says “the Church stands on the site of a Neolithic tomb-shrine below which two springs emerge. One, La Fontaine de la Bellouse was said to have healing powers.” It is still a pleasant spot, despite the white van that seems to be perpetually parked in front of La Gran’mère every time I visit.

In fact I have been checking in with this Goddess for more than fifty years. I have a compulsion to visit her as one of the first things I do every time I return to the island. And although I don’t quite stand in the lane talking aloud to her, there is some daft part of me that thinks an update on my life is somehow downloaded into the impassive stone.

She is not an insubstantial being whose appearance is unknowable. This divine chunk of ancient history is not fenced off, and stands completely unprotected on the street. You can touch her; she has a tangible reality.

After my own grandmother’s funeral service in St Martin’s church, my grandfather, whose legs had become weak with the day’s events, paused to steady himself, leaning on La Gran’mère’s shoulder completely unselfconsciously.
Gran'mere 25Oct
My friend Richard Fleming and I collaborated on our book A Guernsey Double. We both wrote about about La Gran’mère, but from opposite perspectives. For Richard she is  something to be hurried past: “yet, as I pass with dogs that cringe/ and shy away from nameless harm,/ the day seems darker,/far less warm.” While for me she has become something to which, bizarrely enough, I turn for comfort “Anchor me, Gran’mère,/ my stone tongue/ is tapping my teeth;/ anchor me/in my night storm,/in my heart worn/exhaustion.”

Although I personally worship La Gran’mère I will leave the last words to Marie De Garis.

Looked at during the daytime la gràn’mère wears a very benign look, but photographs taken by flashlight at night reveal quite a different aspect. She then looks a fierce and malevolent object.

Categories
A Guernsey Double Guernsey

An exile’s lament

I am an exile, but I am not alone.

Most people I know live far away from where they grew up. Though born in London, my mother moved to Guernsey to live with my grandparents when I was little. I started school on the island, and my brother was born in the old granite cottage where we lived with my grandparents. I am lucky. I return often to what I think of as my heartland. I can walk about in the parish of my childhood, and many things are the same. A wall on the Icart Road has an uncle’s initials in the plaster between the granite blocks, the hedge of the old family home still has my Grandmother’s fuchsia growing in it, and the old wishing well remains the same.

When I return to Guernsey, I am conscious that what I am exiled from is not the place, but the past. Each lane is full of muttering memories. One lane was always very dark at night – which is why we called it Screaming Lane. It was here my grandmother lay in wait in the inky hedgerow shadows wearing a gorilla mask, ready to spring out on an unfortunate guest to the party she was throwing. Or just down the road from where we lived, a corner called Le Coin d’la Biche was supposedly haunted by a terrifying goat, and was a place that my grandfather sped by when we walked past it at night. But my grandparents are long buried, and some feud after my Grandfather’s death put a rift in the remaining family.

Over recent years Guernsey managed to weather recessionary storms better than most places. But properties in St Martin’s parish, where I lived, have been bought up by rich folk working in finance not from the island. I sense a resentful division between locals, and others. When I arrive at the airport, I often am asked if it is my first time on the island, and I want to say no, I belong here.  But of course I don’t, and however many times I return to Guernsey I will never be a local.

I have written love letters to Guernsey since I was a teenager. In fact, being away from Guernsey was what started me writing. I tried to capture the safety of my long summer holidays, like the dozens of different insects in my Grandparent’s back garden I collected in jam jars when I was a kid. These sweating trapped insects are my poems. And the publication of A Guernsey Double with Richard Fleming about the island, received generous coverage on BBC Guernsey radio (but was snubbed by the local newspaper). My poems have also been set to music, including a current project with a local composer. Just sometimes, it is possible to feel that my love letters were not sent to a granite heart.

Last week I was on the island for a few days honeymoon with my wife Lorraine. We caught a bus into town. But in Guernsey, buses are suddenly controversial. A two-tier pricing system has been introduced, and boarding a bus in spring I was told the fare into town is £1 for locals, £2 for non-locals. I was charged £2 by a dour bus driver from Yorkshire (to add insult to injury) and I sat down feeling furious – confirmation that I did not really belong here. Last week, happily, a different driver charged us £1 each and asked us no questions.

Settling into our seats, I noticed one of my poems on a poster inside the bus. With having just married my lovely wife, I was in an emotional state, but this little surprise felt like a moment when something precious was requited.

The poem has a few local names for fish in it. Cabou is the local name for goby, longnose for garfish, rockfish for wrasse,  and ormer is the name of a local and highly prized shellfish.

HOOKED by Peter Kenny

I stuffed my hook in a ragworm’s jaws,
caught a glum cabou with a ground line,
hooked peacock rockfish, cats-meat pollack,
spinning with the twins off The White Rock.
With a sun-thawed, severed sandeel head,
I foul-hooked fighting green-boned longnose
on a short-traced float from the lighthouse.
From boats I dragged foil, feathers, bare hooks
past ravenous packs of mackerel.
I heard spider crabs skitter on deck,
saw lobsters lobbed out from lobster pots
went home to the kitchen scream of crabs.

Now I fish for something I can’t describe.
I wait for the ormer skies of sundown,
my fine line curving somewhere out of sight
its weightless trace baited with silence.

Categories
Guernsey

Liberation Day

Guernsey was liberated on 9th May 1945, and this year one of my poems Root and Branch was beautifully read as part of a Liberation Day sermon by Dr Jonathan Frost, Bishop of Southampton. The service was featured on BBC Guernsey and you can listen here. The service starts at around 1:31 and my poem Root and Branch read at 1.52. Obviously actually being part of the sermon made me feel incredibly proud, not to mention slightly amazed as I knew nothing about it beforehand.

The liberation fleet arrives

The poem is my attempt to put myself in the position of a mother whose children have been evacuated to England. This agonising decision was faced by many in the islands.

My Grandfather David Marquis was on the island throughout the occupation, but his mother decided to evacuate many of his brothers and sisters. This necessity sundered island families and created all kinds of mixed feelings. After the war, for example, many evacuee children returned to the island as strangers to Guernsey and to their natural families.

For me, being in a place that was occupied made living on Guernsey rather different to being in England. Having started school in St Martins there seemed nothing strange about having a German bunker in the playground for example, or that my Grandfather should have a smattering of German, and a dagger looted from the Nazis.

Even today the coast still bristles with various Nazi fortifications. Hitler’s idea was to turn the northern coast of Europe into  a ‘ring of steel’, and as Guernsey is located in a place of such strategic significance its defences were formidable. This explains why liberating the islands happened after the collapse of the Nazi war effort. Taking back the islands by force would have resulted in all kinds of bloodshed.

The Star, May 2 1944

By 1944 the food situation was alarming on the island. I have a copy of The Star dated Tuesday May 2 1944, ostensibly a Guernsey newspaper but filled with vile Nazi propaganda.

It does contain an illuminating local news item about the auctioning of a large egg for charity, which concludes ‘all sympathisers with the objects of the fund are asked to do their best to earn what will be a really sumptuous meal for the lucky recipient’.

They are calling a large egg a sumptuous meal.

After the D-day invasions of June 1944 the allied forces pushed slowly into France, which meant the German supply lines to the islands were strained and eventually cut off completely.

The islanders of course had already been hungry a good deal of the time, but now that even the Germans supplies were sundered, it was to be a long hard year of near starvation for many before liberation eventually arrived.

Here is the text of my poem. Other of my poems about the island are available in A Guernsey Double, written with my friend Richard Fleming, and featured in the side bar of this blog.

Root and branch

There’s marching in the Guernsey lane,
my table’s bare, the pattern’s clear:
they will starve us after curfew
they will break us at the table.

I scrape aside the hedgerow scraps
to float along the willow road
to distant bomb-pocked England
near a city I’ve never seen

where my children stay with strangers
and, forgetting all their patois,
they turn in skies of fractured glaze
and trill their songs with English tongues.

Each night the doves return as crows
and I’m harrowed root and branch
as they bayonet their places
and their mother stands accused

for I tore them from their garden
and I knotted them with labels
like a cherry shedding blossom
I dropped them from my stupid limbs.

Categories
Buddhism Guernsey Silence

The sound of one hand clapping

I have been fascinated by silence for years. Having lately met several classical musicians and composers, it is interesting to discover just what a touchstone John Cage’s 4’33” is. What I glean from these discussions is that John Cage was trying to get people to listen to the other sounds of the music hall, or wherever the piece was presented, as well as delightfully subverting people’s expectations. I learn that the piece’s performance has of late has a flavour of audience participation with, I am told, people comedically triggering off a mobile phone rings during the performance.

The excellent A book of silence, by Sara Maitland is a lovely description of the author’s quest for the meaning of silence. The book was a welcome discovery especially as I have as yet been unable to coherently express my thoughts on the subject. Maitland’s suggestion that there are all kinds of silences is one I fully support. She also suggests certain artistic expressions are somehow express silence too — a conclusion that I also agree with.

I put here a few notes on the subject from about 11 years ago first published in my now defunct AnotherSun ezine… It kicks off with a quote from Keats, whose poetry seems to me to be drenched in silence.

For me silence in art, maybe a bit like umami – something we altogether recognise but at one time had no word for.

The sound of one hand clapping

“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard

 Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on”
John Keats Ode on a Grecian urn.
 
I can remember the first time I was forced to think about silence.
My friend Michael and I walked out from the edge of Warwickshire village, where he rented an old house, into some muddy fields. The afternoon was windless and nippy. The road through the village was far behind us, and for once there were no cars, nor aircraft overhead. All about us subdued sheep stared into space.
         “Quiet isn’t it?” I said.
         “Yes,” said Michael, “this is what Heidegger calls the pre-linguistic state.”
         “Ah.” I said, nodding sagely.
         Of course, he could tell I was bluffing.
Later, hunched over his open fire in the approved student way, we had a lengthy discussion about silence. And the things he made me think about that evening have been with me ever since. What is silence? An absence of noise? What would being in total silence do to you? And above all… What would it be like to live without language?
Many philosophers suggest that proper thinking is impossible without having words to give your ideas shape and form. And if humanity had no language, then we would be no better than the poor old sheep snuffling about in the darkness behind the house. The German philosopher Heidegger, Michael told me, described mankind as the “language-animal”. Clearly one implication being that what sets us apart from other animals was language.
That’s how I became an amateur silence spotter.  If being able to communicate in language was what made us human, then what did silence contain? Things that weren’t human?  Something basic and sheep-like? Or something divine?
Even your novice silence spotter can listen to music and hear the silence between the notes. I discovered Kind of Blue by Miles Davis was especially good for this (especially, funnily enough, when accompanied by a jazz cigarette). I began to see music as an arrangement of silences with the quality of each silence being altered by the notes that surround it.
Things got a bit extreme when I started to think about words in the same way as musical notes. You can take a poem, for example, and view this as a collection of silences. The quality of the silences being altered by the words that come before or after them.
All this silence spotting didn’t really get me anywhere, apart from giving me a nagging sense that what cannot be put into words is probably the really interesting stuff. It left me with the firm conviction that words, if used skilfully enough, could signpost the undiscovered country of silence. Which is why poetry has always been important to me. I get the feeling that the best poetry is like Captain Kirk in the Starship Enterprise, boldly going where no man has gone before.
The second stage of my career as a silence spotter came through meditation. For a several years I went to a regular Thursday night meditation group. I always left feeling refreshed, relaxed and generally sorted.
Often the people trying to meditate spoke of struggling with voices chattering in their heads. I knew what they meant. Our brains are tuned to some kind of “Radio Self” and when you try to be really silent, your brain can’t stop chattering. It behaves like a child you are trying to ignore. With practice, however, you can at least turn down the volume.
And that’s how I think I got somewhere special in my silence spotting career — through meditation. There was one especially memorable time where I suddenly felt physically empty. And had a clear (and of course faintly ridiculous) vision of myself as a bell with no clapper. The chattering radio of the voices in my head had been switched off and I felt serene. Oddly I also felt as physically close to the people passing in the street outside, as to the person sat next to me in the darkened room.
This sensation, which I guess must only have lasted for a few minutes, was accompanied by a feeling of intense elation and meaningfulness. While the business of feeling like a bell was extremely specific, and I was strongly reminded of it when I walked into bell-shaped Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka.
At last my silence spotting had got me somewhere. For one thing to a direct and startling alteration of my mood.  It left me with a deep — if temporary — sense of spiritual well-being.
Below a door in St Martin’s Guernsey. One of my own snaps which seems to me to have a quality of silence about it.
Categories
Fiction Guernsey Guernsey Literature Novels

Choking on potato peel

Just finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (and completed by Annie Barrows) and I am trying to work out why it makes me grind my teeth.

I can see why the book has done so well. As an epistolary novel, it is easy to read, and there is no sense of the heart-sinking and foreboding that some people get with long, dense chapters. Also making it partly about an occupation book group (which feels like an anachronism to me) was a great wheeze, in terms of raising its profile in today’s book groups.

It’s an undemanding read, skating unconvincingly over the surface of the occupation, romance, and even the horrors of Nazi labour camps.

But there is no sense of real Guernsey people or their turns of phrase or ways of speaking. The material is clearly the product of laborious if sometimes inaccurate research. Such as when, for example, people are surrounded by Luger sporting Germans soldiers. (What, they were all officers then?)

I did not care what happened to any of the two-dimensional characters. Surely the point of setting it somewhere – anywhere – is to give it a distinct flavour? But again, following what seems to be a long tradition going back to Geoffrey of Monmouth, when the action moves to Guernsey, it appears as a blank backdrop.

What I do like about it, is that it is raising the profile of Guernsey, and getting people curious about the island. But if you want to read a novel set in Guernsey which is worth reading, read The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G.B. Edwards, which is incomparably better. While Tim Binding’s book Island Madness is vastly better written book about the occupation.