Friday, May 6, 2011

Please Mr. Postman

"Please Mr Postman, look and see
If there's a letter in your bag for me...."

What a creative literary device. To write a whole novel in letters. I wasn't sure I would like it; if the author could pull me in AND pull it off.

Wow, to coin another tune..."I'm a Believer!"

Reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows was like waiting for a special letter each day. How excited Juliet must have been each time the Postman arrived with new letters, how thrilled she must have been to give him new ones in return to continue her story to Sophie and Sidney. I was!

Set in England and the channel islands of Guernsey in the aftermath of WWII, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society brings characters and their stories to life, one letter at a time. After living with email and the "to the minute" world of tweets and texts I wondered how the authors could pull off the plot without dragging things out. (How clever of them to intersperse telegrams!) But I turned the page to get an answer immediately. Although some have called this book plodding and slow, I disagree. This was perfect for me. (I do miss good-mail!)

“ I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” Juliet Ashton

" I love seeing the bookshops and meeting the booksellers- booksellers really are a special breed. No one in their right mind would take up clerking in a bookstore for the salary, and no one in his right mind would want to own one - the margin of profit is too small. So , it has to be a love of readers and reading that makes them do it - along with first dibs on the new books." p. 15

"It was amazing to me the, and still is, that so many people who wander into bookshops don't really know what they're after - they only want to look around and hope to see a book that will strike their fancy. And then, being bright enough not to trust the publisher's blurb, they will ask the book clerk the three questions: (1) What is it about? (2) Have you read it? (3) Was it any good?
"Real dyed in the wool booksellers - like Sophie and me - can't lie. Our faces are always a dead giveaway. A lifted brow or a curled lip reveals that it's a poor excuse for a book, and the clever customers ask for a recommendation instead, whereupon we frog-march them over to a particular volume and command them to read it. If they read it and despise it, they'll never come back. But if they like it, they're customers for life." p. 16

Now this book may appear on the surface that it is only a tribute to book-lovers everywhere. Well it does light the fire of many a reader, but no, that is only half the story. It is a poignant story that needs to be told, of those who suffered on the island of Guernsey during the German occupation. These stolid citizens endured the hardship of war and occupation. Their very lives invaded by not an unseen enemy, but one very present, in their faces. They sent their babies away to England to be protected from the Germans. For five long years.

"Of all the things that happened during the war, this one - making your children go away to try to keep them safe - was truly the most terrible. I don't know how they endured it. It defies the animal instinct to protect your young.....How did the mothers of Guernsey live, not knowing where their children were?" p. 229

I loved Juliet and her writing skill and style. Her friendships were deep and caring. How hard to have us care for these characters after only a few letters and/or pages. What a task. How I admire those who can write letters like that. My SIL can - I smile on every page of her letters and miss the days when corresponded via paper and pen.

A favorite book of mine, A Town Called Alice by Neville Shute, has much the same feel. A tug, a pull, and you're IN the book. You're in the lives of the characters before you know what hits you. This was a great book group read.

Mr. Postman ( aka Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows,) you delivered!!


DesLily said...

i read this book a few years ago and, like you, fell in love with it... it's so sad the author passed away and we'll never get another book from her.

Sarah said...

This is one of my favorite books! I am glad you enjoyed it so much. I love finding out what you're reading often becomes what I'm reading next!

Inside A Book said...

DesLily, I was so caught up in the story that I was also so sad to hear that the author had died. I'm like you, I would have loved to read her crisp writing again.

Sarah, You are too cute! Let's see, right now I'm reading The Stone Diaries. It won the Pulitzer prize a few years back. The writing is awesome but sometimes the comments can get a little wild/off colored. That makes me sad. I'm ready to start Isabelle Allende's Daughter of Fortune next. Or will it be something else? Gosh, the winds of fate they are a blowing. What are you reading??

Sarah said...

Just finished Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card. It's a fantasy/sci-fi mixture (literally, one chapter fantasy, the next a seemingly different story in sci-fi) that was alright, kind of eh. 3 out of 5, mostly because of the non-ending. Being left hanging is ok as long as there is some sort of resolution, you know? I also recently finished Tiger's Curse. Loved it! Are you on Goodreads? It's a good place to see what your friends are reading and what they like/don't.