Review Blog

Sep 12 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

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Read by Taylor Owynns. Allen and Unwin, 2008. Vision Australia, 2010. 7 CDs, 8.5 hrs
Highly recommended. This extraordinary story of a diverse range of characters residing on the island of Guernsey during World War Two, will win hearts all over again, as it is told by Taylor Owynns on these discs. Everything is forgotten as listeners settle in to listen to this wonderfully told story, forgetting all appointments and chores, visitors or obligations. Taylor Owynns' voice takes on the plethora of characters with ease, traipsing over the accents and nuances of voice which so delineates each of the islanders. From Dorsey to Elizabeth, Sydney to Juliet, each person is given a subtle change of tone that makes them easy to pick up.
The story of these people, emerging after five years of privation during German occupation is infectious. Juliet Ashton, a London author is flattered by the interest shown by one of the women on the island, and responds to her letters. The replies pique Juliet's interest and going to the island, it is her intention to follow the story of the Society, set up during WW2 to evade the scrutiny of the occupiers, hopefully culminating in a book. But on the island, she learns first hand about friendship and trust as by degrees the islanders reveal themselves through their letters and conversations about the woman who was killed by the Germans, Elizabeth. It is her story that captures Juliet's imagination and the detail which comes through her conversations with the islanders; builds up an image of a forthright young woman, not easily thrown by brutality.
The Society, born one night from Elizabeth's imagination, telling the German patrol just why she and several islanders were out after curfew, sets in place a disparate group of people meeting every fortnight to discuss works they have read. Several had never read a book before, let alone discuss it, and it is these literary evenings, surmounted by a supper which often includes the Potato Peel Pie, that engages our rapt attention. Each letter reveals more of that society and those who are part of it, the telegrams heighten our interest and sometimes the distance between London and Guernsey seems very short indeed. An amazing story of courage and fortitude, offering listeners a slice of war history rarely visited by non fiction books.
Fran Knight

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