How do you know when a book is bad? When the very author who wrote the book admits it within the pages of said book.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a fictional collection of letters between a successful author and a group of people living on Guernsey Island (which is off the coast of England.) Through correspondence, Juliet, the author, becomes enraptured by the people of the island, and eventually she wants to tell their stories. The problem is that the people are boring and the real author, Mary Ann Shaffer, missed an opportunity to tell a far more interesting plot.
Guernsey Island fell under Nazi occupation during World War II. Unfortunately for the English living there, they were a low priority and thus England herself never fought for their freedom. Instead, the islanders had to do their best to live with the Nazi invaders. And that is the fascinating story Shaffer glazes over.
In a letter to her editor, Juliet (the fictional author) complains that her story isn’t coming out quite right. He responds that she is, in fact, correct. He tells her, “strings of anecdotes don’t make a book. Juliet, your book needs a center. I don’t mean more in-depth interviews. I mean one person’s voice to tell what was happening all around her. As written now, the facts, as interesting as they are, seem like random, scattered shots.” So now, let me see? Would a collection of unpurposed, cutesy letters be considered a string of anecdotes? How about a book that is told via letters, and thus lacks a central character or voice? And what should I do with this interesting background story that is glossed over? Oh yes, interesting facts simply piled together just turn into random, scattered shots. So, as I mentioned earlier, it is obvious that even Shaffer didn’t think her book was any good.
Turning each page of this book was like lifting a bag of bricks. The characters were flat and lifeless and dull. The plot was ridiculously predictable, even down to vilifying a perfectly decent suitor. On top of all that, it was truly painful how much this book relied on lame literary techniques. I was inundated with post scripts, since nearly every person used a P.S. at the end of nearly every letter. And finally, the one sacred rule to writing, Show, Don’t Tell, was broken-no, shattered, at every chance. To an infuriating degree, these letter writers would write something to the effect of “I had lunch: let me tell you about it.” Just tell me about it! Don’t tell me about telling me about it! I could forgive this of an uneducated island farmer writing a letter, but both Juliet and Shaffer should have known better on many occasions.
As much as I enjoy reviling this dreadful book, I must say it pains me that so many respectable readers enjoyed this, not the least of which is my wife whom said she wanted to start over on page one the moment she finished it. Ugh, I’m all worked up now. Just do yourself a favor, avoid this publishing mistake.
Then again, I find myself in a very small minority. In fact, I might just be the only person who didn’t like this book. That’s okay, I have enough disdain for it to make up for dozens of book clubs.