It’s after a long time I’ve read a book which covered what’s close to my heart – a love for books. It’s the kind of book which needs to be savoured, for some of the sentences were so easily relatable by the bibliophiles. And this is the first book which I’ve read after I had watched the movie. I generally don’t like to watch movies, and especially not those which are based on books as I feel they don’t do justice to the story or the characters. I just happened to stumble upon this movie, watched it, loved the story and then immediately ordered myself a copy of this amazing book. And believe me, the book is anytime better than the movie.
The setting is in 1946 post-war London. It’s about a young writer, Juliet Ashton, who has gained immense fame and popularity because of her latest book which she had written under a pseudo name but which she didn’t particularly enjoy writing. It was her bread and butter. Juliet was looking for something to write which would satisfy the writer in her. In those trying times, both literally and figuratively, she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a reticent pig-farmer, book lover and one of the original founders of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. This letter becomes life altering, and liberating, in ways she had never imagined. What starts off as innocent queries about the literary society turns into something more intense, setting her on the path of self-discovery.
The narrative in the first half of the book is only through letters. Yes, the quintessential form of communication which has now become obsolete. The letters help move the story ahead, introduce us to the different characters, brings them to life by developing their personalities, and tells us about the relationships that existed between Juliet and them. I thoroughly enjoyed this bit. Some of the sentences in them are so close to heart. Like when Juliet writes to Dawsey after learning that he is in possession of one of her old books – “Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” Or, when Isola Pribby writes to Juliet – “Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books.” So, so true! Juliet’s views on marriage are very clear when she writes to Sophie, her dearest friend from childhood – “I can’t think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can’t talk to, or worse, someone I can’t be silent with.” Another sentence, written decades ago but which resonates our reality today, written by Dawsey to Juliet – “Boredom is a powerful reason to befriend the enemy, and the prospect of fun is a powerful draw – especially when you are young.”
If the letters were one of the highlights of the story, then the other is the complex interplay between the different characters. It brings forth human fragility and vulnerabilities, how each one of us is an extension of our beliefs. There is no black or white when it comes to the human nature – its always grey, shades of grey, dark grey or light grey but always grey. Markum’s love for Juliet was unquestionable yet it was on his terms. Dawsey and Juliet had never met, yet they connect instantly through their letters. Juliet never heard about Elizabeth until she connected with the literary club members, yet she feels a deep hole in her heart when she learns about her death.
Each of the characters went through trying times during the German occupation of Guernsey. Curfews, rations, hunger, arrests, but they dealt with it all with fortitude. They experienced untold losses, lost dear ones yet continued to defy the odds with their spirit. Like Seneca says, “Light griefs are loquacious, but the great are dumb.” He couldn’t have put it more beautifully. Nobody wants to revisit the old wounds or recount the heartbreaking pains. But they did. Through their letters. They poured their lives into those letters, healing themselves and each other. Juliet wove these stories from their lives and created a book based on love, friendship, trust, and human spirit.
A must read if you enjoy reading, miss writing letters and most of all, believe in humanity and its power to heal.