When this book first came out last year, I felt I was seeing it in every store I went and even though the cover intrigued me initially to make me curious about reading it I put it off. I thought about asking people about it but I struggled to remember the title or synopsis correctly so I didn't ask around about it either. During this year, however, it was chosen for a book group that I'm in and since I enjoying going to talk about books I quickly put a copy on hold at the library so that I could read it and take part in the discussion.
My first attempt at reading it wasn't quite as successful as I had hoped it would be and I had a hard time focusing on each letter, since the book is an epistolary novel, I had to reread several of them in the beginning since it felt important to grasp what was being said in each letter in order to fully understand what lay ahead in the upcoming pages. I remember feeling a bit frustrated when I was only about 36 pages into it. A friend of mine was reading it at the same time and was really enjoying it so her encouragement kept me reading it. As I plunged ahead, I read as much as I could before the initial book group meeting. Since my book was on hold at the library and I had to return it I ended up borrowing it from my friend then finishing it, on my second attempt, some weeks later. I had to reread some pages all over again to remember and keep the characters sorted out in my mind. So, it takes a bit of memory and work at the beginning of reading this book but I found out that once you're engaged in it then it is well worth the effort. For me, it was hard to remember the relationship between each of the letter writing characters when I firgured it out and made a list to refer to, i.e., Sidney (publisher) and Juliet (author) and Susan (publicist) and Sophie (Sidney's sister and Juliet's best friend) etc.., then it really helped me out. Otherwise, I just kept forgetting who was who. Later, when Juliet started corresponding with the residents of Guernsey, I knew I would be totally lost if I did not keep track with a list of all of these characters. As soon as I did this, it was a smoother read until the end.
Basically, this book takes place in London and on the Guernsey Islands. It movingly reveals the story of the Guernsey Islands during and recently after WWII and how the war intitially changed the very lives of its inhabitants. Juliet Ashton, the main character, is a famous writer who learns about Guernsey and becomes drawn into the small island, at first by discovering about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society via letters from its residents and then later receiving more details of the horrors that the people on Guernsey suffered during the German occupation, as well as what they did to overcome their bitter situation while making significant efforts to keep human kindness and love intact.
I enjoyed all of these little efforts displayed by each character. I'll never forget Juliet's red dress, or the adoring Sidney, the kindness of Dawsey or the mysterious letters inherited by Isola from her Granny. I really fell in love with some of the characters and even the ones I didn't I could see the goodness in them. I really found out that even though the book seems to be only about Juliet at first in the end it is really about a unique group of people. There is just something about reading people's back and forth correspondence, the writings in one's diary, or dare I say, comments at the end of the blogs, to really get to know them . In this regard with the correspondence, the author was quite successful as I really got a good sense of what the island went through, a feel for this time period and what each person was all about. In the end, if money were no object, it did make me want to actually visit this tiny little historical island.
One last note, I really liked one of the underlying themes about books and reading - that it is and can be so much more to a person's life than a simple pastime or hobby. It made me love to read all over again!
288 pages, July 2008, My rating: 4 stars