Thursday, September 17, 2009
Traveling to Guernsey...
Alas, it was only in my mind. But if you haven't visited, you must go there. Read the book, I mean, if travel to one of the Channel Islands (between the UK and France) is out of your budget.
I wasn't sure what to expect at first when I realized this was a novel composed entirely of letters, and there were a few parts early on where I had trouble keeping the characters straight, but that could all be chalked up to sporadic reading opportunities for the first several days.
The novel begins in England in 1946, post WW2 of course, and the main character is Juliet Ashton, a writer who has won great fame for her recent publication of a collection of her articles written during the war. As she ventures from London on book tours, she receives a letter from a gentleman named Dawsey Adams, who lives on Guernsey, asking for her opinion about a book that she once owned.
She had to sell it as she had two copies and needed money, and this man now owns it. He wants to know about her notes in the margin. Thus begins their correspondence, a series of inter-channel letters that eventually spreads to include Juliet's publisher, her school chum, and the members of Dawsey's literary society. It doesn't take long for Juliet to become entranced with their story, or for the reader either.
Guernsey was occupied by German soldiers for the last five years of the war, and during the occupation, the islanders had to scrounge for food, using their wits to survive. Many of them had kept pigs, but the Germans declared them to be army property--although the islanders were responsible for the pigs' care. The Guernsey literary society began one night after a pig died.
Yes, that's right. A dead pig. Seems those Germans weren't too bright, and when they came to inspect and fill out the form for the dead pig, they didn't do anything with the carcass. Remember how I mentioned the resourcefulness of the islanders? Well, they carted the dead pig to another farm, called the Germans and said a pig had died, had the inspection, and took the dead pig to another farm, keeping it up until the carcass became too corrupt for such shenanigans. In this way, several farmers got to keep an extra pig off the German record, and after a dinner party featuring roast pork, a party of islanders were caught coming home long after curfew. When asked where they had been, one young woman blurted that they had been at a meeting of the Guernsey Literary Society. And that's how it began.
I'm not doing the book justice, I fear. You simply have to read it. The characters leap, laughing, off the page, and you will quickly find yourself entranced by their story. I guarantee you'll love crazy Isola, who flits from one obsession to the next. Dawsey and Eben and Elizabeth are endearing. You'll want to adopt precocious little Kit, and you'll wish you had a friend like Juliet.
Oh, and you'll probably want to stop texting and emailing and start writing letters again. And visit Guernsey, of course.
That's how I feel. Completely sucked in and sad to have turned the last page.