Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ghosts, Irony, and Potato Peel Pie

In my first posting on The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I speculated on the fact that two authors are listed on the book's jacket. Now that I’ve finished this wonderful book and read the afterward, I know that the main author, Mary Ann Shaffer, became ill after completing the book but wasn’t able to continue working on it as it was readied for publication. She asked her niece and fellow author, Annie Barrows, to step in and take over her role. Mary Ann died before her novel was published.

While I loved the book, I feel caught up in this additional story of Mary Ann and Annie. In the GL&PPS, Juliet is haunted, in a good way, by the ghost of Elizabeth. They share many characteristics, and Juliet picks up and lives to some degree the life that Elizabeth left behind—she lives in her cottage, raises her daughter, and plays her role…that of a strong, loveable outlander who wins the hearts and minds of the islanders. The irony of Annie picking up and carrying on the work of Mary Ann is poignant.

Like, I believe, virtually everyone else who has fallen in love with this book, I am eager to visit Guernsey for myself. I am a bit ashamed to say that I had no idea that it was occupied by the Germans in WWII. And, I am curious to know just how bad Potato Peel Pie tastes. I found a recipe for it here, and the Random House website. It does sound dreadful. It was interesting for me to read about the war time and post-war rationing in particular. My Canadian mother lived with my English father's family during WWII, and she has told me many stories about rationing and coupons and how they dealt with the privations they faced.

I think a great reading challenge would be to read all of the different works that the Guernsey characters read, from the essays of Charles Lamb to the letters of Seneca. I found this list on the Random House website:

Annotated List of Important Books in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Jane Austen - Pride and Prejudice. Isola plans on speaking about it at a meeting but her goat eats her notes (p. 234).

Emily Bronte - Wuthering Heights. One of Isola’s favorite books. She talks about Anne and Charlotte Bronte as well but doesn’t mention specific titles (p. 53).

Thomas Carlyle - Past and Present. The first book that Will Thisbee enjoys helps him “get a grip on Faith.” (p. 101).

Geoffrey Chaucer - The Canterbury Tales. Sidney’s favorite favorite book; the topic of a Society meeting (p. 243).

Charles Dickens - The Pickwick Papers. Amelia’s favorite – it lifts her spirits during the Occupation (p. 50).

Charles Lamb - Selected Essays of Elia. Dawsey has Juliet’s old copy; reason for his first letter to her (p. 9).
- More Essays of Elia and Selected Letters. Juliet sends to Dawsey (p. 11).

Wilfred Owen - The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen. Owen’s poetry helps Clovis Fossey to describe his experiences in WWI (p. 72).

Rainer Maria Rilke - Collected poetry (exact title not specified). A gift from Christian to Elizabet6h, with the inscription, “For Elizabeth, who turns darkness into light.” (p. 259).

Seneca - Letters of Seneca. John Booker writes that Seneca and the Society keep him from being a drunk (p. 88).

William Shakespeare - Selections from Shakespeare. Eben Ramsey’s favorite book. He quotes Shakespeare when talking about the German troops landing on Guernsey (p. 63).

Oscar Wilde - An important author in the book—he writes a series of letters to Isola’s grandmother—but none of his works are specifically mentioned.

Interestingly, the list omits the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, which is actually something I do want to read because my aged father occasionally mentioned how much he admired this Roman Emperor.

I particularly liked the bit about the Wilde letters about Solange the cat. Lovely on so many levels.

All roads lead to Austen...I couldn't help but think that Guernsey's Elizabeth and our Lizzy Bennet share many traits.


  1. An author they do not mention is D.E. Stevenson. I liked Guernsey very much but found it very much like Stevenson in style and tone, and it made me want to do a complete reread. I can't remember if my mother noticed when she read it; I will have to check with her.

  2. I haven't heard of D.E. Stevenson, but Googling on her makes me think I would like her work. Thanks for the tip.