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Saturday 28 April 2018

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society - The Book Review

It's a book.

 It's a film.

It's called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
But neither is truly about Guernsey, from my perspective as a girl born and bred on the island.
Yes, the story is set on my island but that's where the connection ends for me.  IMHO.
So today's post is my experience of reading the book, from the perspective of an islander.

I've avoided writing about TGLAPPS; being a Guernsey Girl it's felt a bit like the elephant in the room.  But I feel compelled to write about it now as the film has raised the book's profile this side of the pond. 
I feel I need to touch on a few points, and I hope you understand why.
This is my personal and very humble opinion of a book about my home turf, so please don't judge me.

Background to the book

From what I understand, the book was written by an American lady who picked up a few locally written books whilst fog-bound at our airport sometime in the 70s.
The novel came about some 30 years later, with assistance from her niece.

For those of you unfamiliar with book or film, my synopsis is below.  But please be warned, it's based on one reading of the book 9 years ago, and as I was fairly ambivalent about it then, I don't have the appetite to re-visit the book for verification.

The Synopsis

In 1946 a lady author, Juliet, begins corresponding with Dawsey, a Guernsey resident and book club member, and eventually travels to the island as she feels she's found the makings of a novel.  Once on the island she befriends members of the book club which was established as a curfew-buster during the occupation of the island (1940-1945), and she slowly unravels a story of a love affair between a local girl and a German soldier.  I think Juliet eventually ends up with Dawsey.

So that's the storyline, and it's fictional.

My Introduction to the Book

I heard of it when a fellow guest handed me a copy during a wedding weekend in Boston in 2009 when she discovered that I was from Guernsey and hadn't heard of the book.  She had two copies in her hotel room!  She then randomly brought other ladies over to meet me during the wedding breakfast.   It was kinda crazy!
I quickly learned that it was a book club's recommended reading and  as I subsequently travelled around America's east coast I discovered that many book club members had read it ... and the book club had many members!  No longer did I have to explain where Guernsey was, or that it wasn't part of Jersey.  I was treated like royalty that visit.  It opened doors for me, quite literally.  A Cape Cod bank was opened for me after closing time so that I could take out some cash (long story)!

Anyway, I took it home, read it and I struggled with it.
I think it's because it doesn't read like it's about the island or its people that I know and love.  We Guerns tend to struggle with it.
For anyone outside of Guernsey, it's probably an entertaining little book - it's sold over 5 million copies, that's a lot of love for a book.

Things about the book that made me scream!

The names. The author attempted to use a few local Guernsey surnames for the book's characters, but given how the book came about they were either mis-spelled or unrecognisable.

"We'd never say that!!" The book includes conversation in a style not used by the people of Guernsey or indeed those in the UK.  This has been addressed in the film.

A Guern called Dawsey ?!

 What's potato peel pie?  Clearly food was very short and all edible scraps were used, like potato peelings.  But as nobody over here has heard of an actual peel pie, I've had several attempts at making it since 2009 and it's still a work in progress!

So yes, I accept the book is fiction, but it lacks authenticity for the local reader.
And I expect that's always the struggle when reading a work of fiction about one's home turf that is written with an outsider's knowledge.
One of my fellow film-goers last weekend told me that she'd recently read a novel based on her home turf, Dartmoor, whose author is not from our shores.  As she read facts and descriptions, she too found herself inwardly screaming things like "Wrong!", "No, the church doesn't look like that!" and the old proverbial "We wouldn't say that!".  So it seems like this is par for the course.

Don't get me wrong, the film is poignant, the cast is strong, some inaccuracies have been addressed and it's well worth a visit.   The book, for a local reader, not so much.

I don't usually read books about the occupation, far too painful.  I read TGLAPPS out of respect because the book was gifted to me.
But on a brighter note, here are a few local fictional books that I have enjoyed and recommend.

This book reads so true and I loved it:

(Word on the rue is that this may be made into a film.)

And this is a sweet little novel
(Sarnia is the name the Romans gave to Guernsey and our "national anthem" is Sarnia Cherie. )


And especially for Susan H, and with apologies for the photo quality,


perhaps for your next QM2  trip, Susan ?!

A la perchoine

Coming up in this Series
The film
The recipe

Coming on your screens this coming week

The dress!


  1. Thank you so much for this review. Before I "met" you, everything I knew about Guernsey I learned from this book. So good to know that it was not really authentic. Funny, but it did not seem authentic to me when I read it years ago, and I knew nothing about it. So glad I have gotten the chance to see your beautiful island through your blog. Please keep posting pictures. I look forward to reading the books you recommend.

    1. Oh Susan, you don't know just how relieved I am to hear that that's how you read the book too! I've avoided talking about it but the film is pretty big over here so I can no longer hide the book under a stone, so to speak. And as a thanks for your comment I'm going to add a few pics for you (I've already out some on the film post draft).
      Thanks, thanks, thanks, my sweet friend, x.

    2. Thank you! I loved my present. I ALWAYS love seeing the pictures of Guernsey.!

    3. You're welcome. Enjoy your cruise and London, x

  2. It's so nice to hear the other side of something like this, I would have watched the film or read the book and assumed everything was true! Thanks for sharing this Mary, it was really interesting. Have a super Sunday my friend. x Jacqui Mummabstylish

    1. Hi Jacqui, it's the little things that grated for me then and that's what has stuck in my mind. If I tried to read the book now perhaps I'll have learned to ignore them. Super Sunday back atcha sweetie, x.

  3. Ahhh, that's too bad that the author got it all wrong, but hey, at least you got the royal treatment for a bit because of it! All kidding aside, when you love a place and know a place as you do it becomes personal. Thank you for sharing your insights and it's a shame that the author took the liberties she did when writing. I cannot imagine being an author however, I don't know that I'd write a book set in a place I wasn't familiar with. That would make me a little nervous for this very reason. It seems a little disrespectful to the people of Guernsey. Well, the book is not on my must read list that's for sure. Your island seems so beautiful and I will choose to experience it through your eyes!

    1. As I've just mentioned to Jacqui, it's the little things that niggled, Mrs R, and that's all I remember 9 years on. But yes, it got me some special treatment in the US that trip! If writing fiction now I think I'd take the John Le Carre approach and go native for a while!
      Thanks and hugs my friend, x.

  4. I, for one have never heard of this book or the movie. I it makes it to Netflix I will watch it now that you have written a review. Until I found you and your blog, the only thing I knew of Guernsey was Guernsey cattle and the knitting tradition.

    I certainly understand about not being comfortable with how your area is portrayed because I had the same feeling when I saw "3 Billboards". I remember thinking that I sure hope that the world doesn't think we all profusely use profanity and especially around our children.

    I also know this is nothing new. My Mom grew up in Oklahoma during the depression and hated "The Grapes of Wrath" for how it portrayed "Okies". It's always going to be with us, seeing ourselves through other's eyes.

    So, I always look forward to your posts, especially when you are out and about in your real Guernsey!

    Take care, Terri xox

    1. Thanks so much, Terri, you totally get it. We are sensitive to things written about our home turf because chosen elements are caricatured by the author/scriptwriter and the devil is in the detail for us. So you could say I didn't enjoy the book because each time I saw a bad attempt at a name it got my shackles up and created a bad overall experience!
      I've included pictures of cows in a future post which I hope you enjoy! And you've reminded me that I've been meaning to do a piece on our knitwear for ages, and that's now back in my to-do list, so thanks for the prompt and also for your understanding comments.
      Have a great week my dear, hugs x

  5. I read the book a few years ago, and thought it ...uh... okay. Bit too "cutsey" for my tastes. And like Susan H didn't find that it seemed "authentic." Although it must be difficult to write of a place far from where the author lives, many, many do it successfully. Through a lot of hard slog research, I imagine. Your comments remind me of a series of mysteries written by an American but set in England... and they are so stereotypical that I can't bear to read them. I won't mention the author in case I offend a reader who loves them. This book just reinforces why I ( and my book club) tend to avoid books that are heavily plugged as great for book clubs. Ha.

    1. Hi Sue, I'm finding it so interesting that readers picked up on the 'authentic' aspects when reading the novel. I totally get your hint at another author's attempt, the result is stereotyped, caricatured. Why do it? And I totally get why you avoid book club recommendations, puts me in mind of Groucho's view on club membership! Thanks popping in, hugs x

  6. Too funny Mary because when I picked up the book a few years ago (and I'm not from Guernsey) I really hated it and in fact didn't finish it. I can't remember why I disliked it so much - maybe it was a bit syrupy or slow. But glad to know I'm not the only one, although your reasons are a lot more valid!

    1. Well, Gail, join the club! A few of my family couldn't finish it either. I certainly struggled. Perhaps the author stretched herself too far and on too many fronts so that the lack of authenticity hits the reader. Thanks for sharing your experience. Wishing you a happy week ahead, hugs x.

  7. I haven't had much time to read lately, but your preview of the dress has me on pins and needles!! I can't wait to see it!!

    1. Hi Jodie, I'd better relieve you of those pins and needles sharpish! I've been waiting for a gorgeous day but the forecast is telling me not to hold my breath, so indoors it's gonna be. Again!
      Hugs, my sweet lady, x

  8. Thank you for you review of the book and film. I must admit that I enjoyed the book at the time of reading but didn't think of it as authentic. I do want to see the film but understand that it wont be a genuine picture of your beautiful island. I will be visiting Shetland in August and realise that it won't look much like the TV series which was mainly shot on the mainland I'm told.

    1. Apologies for my tardiness, Pieta, just spotted these unanswered comments.
      Funny, the book's lacking authenticity seems to come across in comments from readers in all parts of the globe. Enjoy the film as something not connected with Guernsey! And yes, I expect the approach to filmmaking is pretty common, though I do enjoy Shetland and I'm sure your holiday there (soon!) will exceed your expectations. Hugs, x.

  9. I think we all see faults in fiction set around something we know . Mr Him often screams at the TV you wouldn't cuff someone like that! It's disappointing isn't it. May be we should avoid fiction to close to us for driving us to despair.

    1. Oh so funny, AM, I can just imagine Mr Him getting shirty with the telly! I think you're right on avoiding fiction close to home, though J's evenings are going to be quiet if he avoids cuffing drama!
      Hugs and apologies for my tardiness, x.

  10. Thank you for this review from a local's perpsective.

    SSG xxx

    1. Apologies for my tardiness, SSG - gosh, I'm really creating a bad first impression with YOU, I can assure you I normally reply quicker!! Thanks for your comment, I'm pleased you enjoyed the local perspective. Hugs, x .