After finishing reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society years ago, I remember thinking how sad the author had died and I would never read another of her stories. The book stands as one of my all time favorites, and I eagerly anticipated the film version with three actresses from Downton Abbey in the cast – Lily James and Penelope Wilton, and Jessica Brown Findlay — perhaps better known as Downton Abbey’s dearly departed Lady Sybill.
Of course, I remember the feeling of the book but, as usual, I’ve forgotten all the details. It was a pleasure to read it again after almost ten years. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, see it first – then reread the book. Both are enjoyable and a comfort.
The movie and the book are the same, but different. Of course, the book has all of the author’s quirky notes and asides required to be missing in a condensed film version, but the movie has lush images of the scenic English countryside to compensate, and it does select the most important moments to keep. Although the book introduces the characters through letters, fewer appear in the movie and the letter-writing is replaced by getting Juliet to the island faster. In the movie the description of Guernsey under occupation has less importance than the mystery of the missing Elizabeth – the fearless founder of the book club.
The characters retain their core values and tone but not always in the same form. Handsome boyfriend Mark is an American publisher trying to woo Juliet away in the book; in the movie he is an American intelligence officer, still trying to get her to marry him, but a key role in finding Elizabeth is invented for him. Romance gets more time in the movie, making the handsome staunch Dawsey more appealing for the happily ever after ending.
I missed the funny episode with Oscar Wilde’s letters to Granny Phhen and a few of the colorful characters who were eliminated, but I’m not sure how the short movie could have accommodated them without a sequel. I liked the movie (how could I not) and appreciated its faithfulness to the story.
Rereading the book was a pleasure, and I found a few phrases I had forgotten – some made me laugh:
- I thought of my friends who own independent book stores with: “Noone in their right mind would take up clerking in a bookstore for the salary, and noone in their right mind would want to own one…so it has to be a love of readers and reading that makes them do it.”
- I thought of myself with: ” so far my only thought is that reading keeps you from going gaga. You can see I need help.”
- I thought of book clubs with: “We took turns speaking about the books we’d read. At the start, we tried to be calm and objective, but that soon fell away…”
and my favorite: “I deny everything.”