You know you have read an unforgettable book when you sigh at its completion, relive the dialogues and the wild and vivid characters in it, and hope desperately that the story will somehow continue.
Such was my reaction to Mary Ann Shaffer’s The
Comprising only letters between the heroine Miss Juliet Dryhurst Ashton, her friends in
Juliet is a headstrong girl who speaks her mind. Raised by an uncle after her parents are killed in a car accident, Juliet runs away from home, is “captured” and brought back, and finally sent away to an English boarding school.
As she matures, she discovers that books, and people associated with books, are her best friends. She writes a column for a newspaper during World War II, bringing humor to a grim subject, and attracts a huge number of fans. The columns are published as a book and Izzie Bickerstaff Goes to War becomes a bestseller. She achieves a measure of financial freedom, a writer’s dream. She writes funny and opinionated letters to her friends. She is content.
But maybe not. On 12th January, 1946, out of the blue, she receives a letter from a Dawsey Adams of St. Martin’s,
“Charles Lamb made me laugh during the German Occupation,” wrote
Meanwhile, a pushy and wealthy American begins pursuing Juliet with a single-mindedness that leaves our heroine out of breath. He showers her with expensive gifts and treats her to the best food in town, a luxury in war-ravaged
But gradually the utterly guileless and lovable members of
And then one day, she does.
I will not spoil your reading pleasure by hinting at what happens next, other than to say only this: Juliet discovers what love is among people for whom every day is a gift, having lived through a brutal occupation. It is as poignant, haunting, witty and uplifting a story as you will ever read.
How this book got written in the first place is a story by itself. In 1976, Mary Ann Shaffer, (born in
Before publication, however, the editor requested some changes to the manuscript that required substantial rewriting. By then, in the summer of 2006, Mary Ann’s health had begun to fail. The responsibility fell to the other writer in the family, her niece Annie Barrows. Having grown up in the caring guidance and the story-telling gifts of her aunt, Annie put her heart to the task, reproducing her “aunt’s voice, her characters, the rhythm of her plot,” even though she thought it would be impossible to do.
Mary Ann passed away in February of 2008. Shortly after her death, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was published. It became an international bestseller and put
I began this short review by writing that I longed for the story to continue after I had finished reading the book. I now know that the story indeed continues. After all, thousands have reviewed it, yet more readers discover this gem everyday and feel the need to share their joy with others. That’s how the story of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society lives on, in the heart of its ever-widening circle of grateful readers.