This novel was originally written by Mary Ann Shaffer; Annie Barrows took over after Mary Ann became ill. Both authors are American.
It is written in the form of letters (except for a small diary near the very end). It is set shortly after the end of the second world war. Dawsey Adams, a small holder in Guernsey, writes to Juliet Ashton, a writer, about Charles Lamb. He reveals the existence of the eponymous society which was set up during the German occupation of Guernsey. As the correspondence continues, Juliet learns more about the lives of the islanders under occupation and begins to fall in love with Guernsey. A lot of the stories she reads deal with Elizabeth, who was taken from the island for sheltering a slave worker and is now missing.
It is a charming tale in many ways but there were one or two features that rather grated with me:
- There are so many weird names. Elizabeth is normal and Juliet, Sophie, Amelia and Sidney are OK but there are also Eben and Eli, Markham, Dawsey, Isola and "Billy Bee" (there are all first names!!!). Surely during the period of austerity after the war English names were as reserved as their manners!
- Equally, the books chosen by the members of the literary society suggest a checklist of "good" books chosen because they are classics rather than because they might have been read at the time. Even the writer, Juliet, is famous for writing Izzy Bickerstaff Goes to War for The Spectator (and she wrongly credits the creation of Bickerstaff to Addison rather than Steele).
- The author has clearly done a lot of research into occupied Guernsey and isn't going to waste it. Some of the letters,written by characters who do not reappear, seem to be included just so another story can be told.
- There is an atrocious little sub-plot involving a pantomime villain seeking to steal some letters which are, of course, by Oscar Wilde. This sub-plot was entirely unnecessary and made the willing suspension of disbelief suddenly a little harder.
- Equally there is an unlikely legacy to enrich the happy ever after ending.
- One of the characters revealed his homosexuality to another character. Not only was this also unlikely since homosexuality was, at the time, a criminal offence; it was also totally unnecessary for the purpose of the plot. Sometimes it seems that every American book nowadays has to have at least one gay character in case the author is accused of discrimination.
Having said all that, the book was interesting and elegantly written and I did want to find out what had happened to Elizabeth and whether Juliet was going to marry the right man. Chick Lit.
May 2009, 240 pages