A Review of the Guernsey Literary & Potatoe Peel Society

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Here it is--my first book review. From time to time I will add reviews of the different books we have read as part of the Sexy Potatoe Peel Book Club.

Christine’s Rating: 5 stars
Book Club Rating: 4 stars
A Babe Book

Despite the heavy subject matter, this epistolary novel is light-hearted and endearing. A historical fiction book about the Nazi occupation of this English island during World War II, the author, a former librarian, cleverly tells the story through a collection of letters. Whereas the narrator in the Book Thief was the haunting first person voice of Death, the narrators in this book are the many characters, each writing his or her letter to the other. With their sing-song regional accents and myriad personalities, the characters almost leap off the pages while the words are embedded in your heart.

The politeness and levity with which the English communicate about serious matters, reminded me of the character played by Hugh Grant in the movie with Julia Roberts, Notting Hill. The stoic but gentlemanly response to an American woman’s brash and blunt remarks left me weak in the knees. Are most English folk really that poetic in everyday conversation? Perhaps it’s time for a sabbatical and a “live abroad” field trip. In this excerpt below, Juliet (the main character--an older maiden, and a writer) is writing to her gal pal, Sophie. Sidney is Sophie’s brother and also Juliet’s Editor. Her wit and humor about escaping her book tour and her self doubt about a string of failed-to-ignite relationships with men is not only comical, but speaks to today's modern woman. Note her mention about marriage. Perhaps if more couples or woman followed that sage advice, there may be less divorces.

From Juliet to Sophie Strachan

12th January, 1946

Mrs. Alexander StrachanFeochan
Farmby Oban Argyll

Dear Sophie,

Of course I'd adore to see you, but I am a soul-less, will-less automaton. I have been ordered by Sidney to Bath,Colchester, Leeds, and several other garden spots I can't recall at the moment,and I can't just slither off to Scotland instead. Sidney's brow would lower—his eyes would narrow—he would stalk. You know how nerve-racking it is when Sidney stalks. I wish I could sneak away to your farm and have you coddle me. You'd let me put my feet on the sofa, wouldn't you? And then you'd tuck blankets around me and bring me tea? Would Alexander mind a permanent resident on his sofa? You've told me he is a patient man, but perhaps he would find it annoying. Why am I so melancholy? I should be delighted at the prospect of reading Izzy to an entranced audience. You know how I love talking about books, and you know how I adore receiving compliments. I should be thrilled. But the truth is that I'm gloomy—gloomier than I ever was during the war. Everything is so broken.

Sophie: the roads, the buildings, the people. Especially the people. This is probably the after effect of a horrid dinner party I went to last night. The food was ghastly, but that was to be expected. It was the guests who unnerved me—they were the most demoralizing collection of individuals I've ever encountered. The talk was of bombs and starvation. Do you remember Sarah Morecroft? She was there, all bones and gooseflesh and bloody lipstick. Didn't she use to be pretty? Wasn't she mad for that horse-riding fellow who went up to Cambridge? He was nowhere in evidence; she's married to a doctor with grey skin who clicks his tongue before he speaks. And he was a figure of wild romance compared to my dinner partner, who just happened to be a single man, presumably the last one on earth—oh Lord, how miserably mean-spirited I sound!I swear, Sophie, I think there's something wrong with me. Every man I meet is intolerable. Perhaps I should set my sights lower—not so low as the grey doctor who clicks, but a bit lower. I can't even blame it on the war—I was never very good at men, was I? Do you suppose the St. Swithin's furnace-man was my one true love? Since I never spoke to him, it seems unlikely, but at least it was a passion unscathed by disappointment. And he had that beautiful black hair. After that, you remember, came the Year of Poets. Sidney's quite snarky about those poets, though I don't see why, since he introduced me to them. Then poor Adrian. Oh, there's no need to recite the dread rolls to you, but Sophie—what is the matter with me? Am I too particular? I don't want to be married just to be married. I can't think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can't talk to, or worse, someone I can't be silent with. [Christine’s comments: I love how this woman thinks—she must be over the age of 40 to have such wisdom] What a dreadful, complaining letter. You see? I've succeeded in making you feel relieved that I won't be stopping in Scotland. But then again, I may—my fate rests with Sidney. Kiss Dominic for me and tell him I saw a rat the size of a terrier the other day. Love to Alexander and even more to you, Juliet

Another delightful, quirky character is Isola, a girl after my own heart: single, slightly naïve and eccentric who awaited no man who did not measure up to her romantic novel standards. She was equally pessimistic about marriage as Juliet.

So who do I identify with--Juliet or Isola? Perhaps both. Educated and with a penchant for writing, I align with Juliet. On the converse side, like Isola, my naivete punishes me with constant disappointment. Like both characters, I'm definitely cautious about marriage.

In summary, this Sexy Potatoe Peel recommends ordering the book now to read by a crackling fireplace, with a cup of English Earl tea, and blankets tucked around.

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