The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows (Bloomsbury) has been on my to-read list for a few years. It was published in 2008 to an accolade from the book reviewers. Having seen it in a book bundle of 10 at The Book People, I was very tempted (especially that an offer was 2 book bundles for £15, and guess, what I bought two).
Though the book is written by an American (it was finished by the author's niece, due to her health issues), she managed to capture the essence of Britishness.
The novel is written in an epistolary genre, which is an almost lost art nowadays. Juliet Ashton, a young author, is the main protagonist of the book. It is 1946, and she experiences a writer's block. Then out of the blue she receives a letter from Guernsey, which changes her life forever.
The letter comes from Dawsey Adams, a pig farmer and a book lover. Intrigued by the literary society of Guernsey, Juliet finds her inspiration to write. And it is through her eyes and correspondence that we meet the characters of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Without going into details so as not to spoil the book, this society was born as a spur of the moment lie but through the years of occupation became a lifeline for its members.
The book tells a story of the German occupation of Guernsey, the deprivation on both sides, the confusion the locals felt regarding their interaction with the Germans. Though collaboration is a dirty word, they had to co-exist for several years with the enemy. What happens if the enemy becomes a friend or even a lover?
The letters between Juliet, the islanders and her publisher and friends, reveal one such love story. Elizabeth, a highly moral individual of exceptional courage, falls in love with a German. Their daughter is a great little personality.
I enjoyed reading the novel, yet at the same time found it at times over-stretching the reality. All characters in the book seem to be totally eccentric. The spectrum of their eccentricities is varied, but sometimes hard to believe. Many reviewers used the word quirky to describe the novel, and my impression is that the author(s) tried too hard to appear witty. Despite all that, I savoured the stories of the literary society (but did find Juliet rather annoying, she is a kind of a woman who wants to appear jolly, endearing and witty. In real life I find such people quite tedious). For me the best pages were the Guernsey stories and the books they discussed.
With our #ReadCookEat challenge I keep looking for food references in books, and though there were quite a few, including the eponymous potato peel pie, I decided to recreate the sorrel soup which Dawsey cooks for Juliet.
"Over supper, we discussed Jonathan Swift, pigs, and the trials in Nuremberg. Doesn't that reveal a breathtaking range of interests? I think it does. We talked easily enough, but neither of us ate much - even though he had made a delicious sorrel soup (much better than I could)..."
1 carrot, sliced thinly
1 potato, quartered and sliced thinly
4 pickled garlic cloves
1 Knorr mixed herbs flavour pot (or a vegetable stock cube)
30g sorrel, chopped
1 egg, beaten
Slice the carrot and potato thinly and cooked in salted boiling water for about 15 minutes together with the pickled garlic cloves and one flavour pot. In the last couple of minutes add the chopped sorrel and a beaten egg. Season well.
Serve hot with a teaspoon of soured cream or Greek yogurt in each plate.
As it happens, I have already posted a recipe for sorrel soup earlier this year, a slightly different version with a hard-boiled egg and olives. You can experiment with vegetables, but a potato is a must in this soup.
My Dad used to add a beaten egg to the soup, whenever he cooked it, and when I was young, I always loved it.