See the Movie, Then Reread the Book – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

8110V2WqqLL   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.”

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The Power of a Poem

Where do you go to escape? to revitalize your brain?  Has something you read ever inspired you to find a place described in the lines?

In his article for the New York Times –  ‘Intimate Exile,’ From Stanza to Stone – Jeff Gordinier writes about traveling to Luing (pronounced “ling”) – an obscure Scottish island in the Hebrides that he found in a poem.   The poet, Don Paterson, promises that Luing is a place to be renewed; the island’s welcome sign greets with “a place to think…a place to be.”  Luing is isolated and beautiful – unknown to tourists, and without the amenities that travelers may expect in a more popular retreat; not many places like that still exist, and those that do, demur from being written about – to escape discovery.

The search for peace within the solitude of nature is not new.  Thoreau’s Walden Pond promised renewal.  Inspired by those words, I once hiked in the woods alone, at first fearing that I would not find my way out, until I slid into the comfort of knowing that no one could find me for the moment. Reading tales of Guernsey (The Soldier’s Wife; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society) have piqued my interest in visiting those hills and coasts.

What have you read that’s led you to points unknown – or, at least, lured you into thinking about going?

Read Dan Paterson’s poem “Luing” – here

The Soldier’s Wife

If you’ve read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society,  you remember the charm and beauty of Guernsey in the Channel Islands and the determination of the islanders during the German occupation.  You’ll wonder where they are in Margaret Leroy’s The Soldier’s Wife but you will still appreciate revisiting the beauty and resilience of Guernsey.

Vivienne aborts her plan to flee Guernsey with her children to the supposed safety of London, after France falls to the Germans in World War II.  The Germans bomb the harbor and occupy the island, and a small group of German soldiers move into the house next door to Vivienne, her two young daughters, and her mother-in-law; her husband is a soldier in the war.

The occupation is relatively resistance-free; since the men have gone off to war; those left on the island are women and children – and young Turks, too young to be soldiers but old enough to rebel.  Vivienne’s initial fears give way to the seduction of the German captain living next door.  Leroy carefully documents how he insinuates himself into her life, separating his persona from his life as a soldier; he is lonely and so is she, and they become secret lovers.  For over two years, the war seems to be somewhere else. But when Vivienne’s young daughter accidentally discovers a war prisoner hiding in a nearby barn, the reality of the Germans’ brutality changes her perspective.

Vivienne finds herself torn: if she can ignore what is going on around her, she might be able to keep her family safe; if she follows her conscience, she may die – not even her German lover will be able to save her.  She begins a dangerous duplicity, sleeping with the German officer at night and feeding the German prisoner by day.

The war ends, but not before a dramatic confrontation on the island.  Vivienne and her children survive; read the last sentence carefully for a surprise.

The Soldier’s Wife is not as well written as Mary Ann Shaffer’s The Guernsey Literary


and Potato Peel Society – one of my favorite books –  but, sadly, Shaffer will never write another book.  And Guernsey’s story is worth revisiting.

Related Post: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

22 Britannia Road

A six year separation for newlyweds is an eternity.  The terrors of war may be too much to overcome.  Amanda Hodgkinson’s 22 Britannia Road is the new English address for Polish war survivors Janusz, the returned soldier, and Silvana, the wife who spent the years trying to survive by hiding in the forest with a young son.

As they try to renew their life together in a new country, the memories and horrors of their years apart intrude.  Janusz keeps secret letters from Hélène, his French lover, and Silvana has her own secret that she fears to reveal.  Aurek, their son, slowly becomes the most resilient promise for the family’s survival as he changes from the feral “foundling from the forest” into a civilized life reunited with his father – complete with a treehouse in the backyard, an English garden, and a school friend.  But he too is haunted by “…the things he has seen…he doesn’t want to think about them…”

Hodgkinson bases the story at the English address, but slowly weaves in the missing six years for both Janusz and Silvana, telling enough of their wartime trauma to justify their anxieties, but leaving some unsaid so that you want to keep reading to discover the atrocities you suspect.  When Janusz tells his story, his soldier’s life is cast as a contrast to Silvana’s strength through her constant terror.

“…the day Janusz left her in Warsaw was the day one life ended and another began…

Neither is the person they were when Janusz married the pregnant Silvana, and you will keep reading to see if any part of that relationship is salvageable.  Janusz works hard to become foreman at the factory, and hopes to have another child.  Silvana, numb from her years trying to survive, does her best to bake currant buns and create a family life for her son, until she discovers Hélènes letters.

Tony, a resourceful Italian widower who owns a pet store and dabbles in the black market – his young son Peter is Aurek’s friend –  silently woos Silvana, eventually leading her to confide in him, and then reveal her awful secret to Janusz.

At this point, the story stops being compelling and becomes melodramatic.  Hodgkinson draws out the denouement so much that the eventual expected ending seems overdue. Despite the overcooked finale, 22 Britannia Road can hold its place with similar recent war stories –  The Postmistress and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.   Hodgkinson reveals the harsh realities of survivors who cannot go home again, yet somehow manage to create a life where they will never be entirely comfortable – even if they replace the English garden with Polish birch trees.

Check out my review of: