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.