Friday, 30 July 2010

Literary letters

London, 1946. Julia Ashton, popular light-hearted journalist and unsuccessful biographer of Anne Bronte, receives a letter from a man in Guernsey who is reading a book she once owned. Charmed by the letter and fascinated by life in occupied Guernsey, Julia begins corresponding with other members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. This leads to her visiting the island with a view to writing a book about the origins of the society and the tragic life of one of its members, Elizabeth McKenna.

For some reason I wasn't as taken with this book as I hoped I would be. The harrowing details of life in Guernsey during the war and the fate of those who were sent to concentration camps were vividly described and so sad to read. By contrast there were lots of delicious details - I loved Isolda's discovery of Jane Austen, Peter Sawyer's desperation to see a picture of Rita Hayworth and Sidney Stark the charming publisher.

It was Julia herself I didn't find plausible. Just didn't buy the fact that she would relocate to Guernsey and bring up another woman's daughter as her own on the basis of a short visit even allowing for the exigencies of wartime. Perhaps it was the epistolary form that was the problem, but I couldn't help feeling that after Julia had completed her book her interest in the island and its inhabitants would wane.

I feel my blog is a little lacking in Jane Austen lately which I intend to rectify very soon! Meanwhile here is a link to a lovely Austen post from Book Snob.

15 comments:

Barbara C. said...

I read Guernsey several months ago. It was wonderful!!!
Barbara

Rachel (Book Snob) said...

I have been meaning to read this for aages. So many overwhelmingly positive reviews, so it's refreshing to read one that is honest yet still appreciative. Thank you Nicola!

Also thanks for the mention of my post! I am most flattered!

LizF said...

I did enjoy the Guernsey book when I read it but I do see what you mean.
I have also just read a book called War on the Margins by Libby Cone which is about wartime life in Jersey and how tough things became particularly for residents with Jewish ancestry. It is written partly in official letters and shows very clearly how some people were very happy to turn on friends and neighbours they had known for years if they thought it would help their own cause.
On a lighter note, I am hoping to read Mansfield Park in the next week or so - for the first time in 33 years! I am devoutly hoping it doesn't take me back to a stuffy classroom at Luton Sixth Form College and the teacher who nearly put me off reading anything 'worthwhile' for life!

Nan said...

Oh, I don't like the new cover. :<( I am one of those who did love the book and believed in it. The one Liz read was more harrowing.

Susie Vereker said...

Relieved to find another reader who wasn't mad about this book. I didn't entirely believe in Julia either, and had doubts about some of the other characters. It all seemed too wholesome at times, though I appreciated the history and the effort that went into the writing and research.

Darlene said...

I started out with no expectations on this one and it ended up being a favourite! Sorry this book didn't quite do it for you but at least now you know what it's all about.

Penny said...

I enjoyed this book. My husband's had it on his bedside table for a long time now, though...

Penny said...

Oops! Meant to say, also, that more Jane Austen posts will be fine by me!

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Thomas at My Porch said...

I did love this book, but I understand your reservations. I had to overlook more than a few things in order to suspend my disbelief. But I guess I was in the mood for letting go when I read it.

Vintage Reading said...

Barbara hi, yes, it certainly was a good read - not a great read for me though.

Rachel, it's well worth reading with many charming moments but I always try to give completely honest evaluations otherwise we have no credibility as book bloggers, I think!

LizF, ooh I went to Jersey for my honeymoon and I'd like to read more about it. Enjoy MP I didn't fully appreciate it until my early forties. Luton Sixth Form College - you're not far from me! (Bedford).

Nan, the pbk cover looks like a model dressed to look like a lady from the 1940's - the lipstick is too glossy!

Susie, I'm relieved to find I'm not the only one who didn't love it!

Darlene, yes I'm glad I read it and I believe it's a huge bestseller.

Penny,at least your husband reads!! My husband loves films but is not a reader - still we're all different ...

Thomas, yes, not entirely convincing, but well-researched and well-written.

makedoandread said...

Isolda's discovery of Jane Austen was one of my favorite moments of the books, which I recently reread. I still love it, but find myself wishing they'd left out the bit about Oscar Wilde's letters - it seems so farfetched now.

Margin Notes Books said...

I liked it, and I didn't think I would, but agree that there was just too much 'far-fetched' drama. Then again, I'm more of a fan of understatement and have reached for Persuasion.

Vintage Reading said...

Margin Notes - I'm thinking of Persuasion, too. My favourite Austen.