Islander Pen Pals Bury Love Between Their Margins

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    Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

    Oozing with charm only the British could squeeze out of the Holocaust and World War II, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” is comfort food for all those still wracked with Bridget Jones withdrawals. The New York Times bestseller is an always-sweet, sometimes-gushy collection of letters to and from the desk of Juliet Ashton, a promising author with a killer case of writer’s block.

    In her search for a muse, Juliet writes to a motley gang of social misfits from the Channel Island of Guernsey. Yet she soon realizes that their makeshift “literary society” is only a cover for legally hanging out after curfew — a much-needed breather from the omnipresent German occupation.

    Although their back-and-forth is initially hard to follow, the letters are well buffered by correspondence from Juliet’s editor and longtime flame Sidney Stark, as well as loaded American prick Mark Reynolds, who spends most of the novel convincing Juliet she’d be much happier lolling around his mansion back in the States, while Sidney insists she remain a devoted pen pal to the Islanders.

    For a letterless second half, Juliet takes her editor’s advice and then some, relocating to the heart of the action and falling even more in love with her new friends. But with visits from both Sidney and Mark, Juliet’s love triangle takes the forefront, a nuisance for those of us far more infatuated with the mischievous book club — who by now deserve a novel all their own.

    But whoever’s story is being told, a saving faith in the written word threads the patchwork narrative. As Amelia, one of the society’s founding members, puts it: “We read books, talked books, argued books and became dearer and dearer to one another. Other Islanders asked to join us, and our evenings together became bright, lively times — we could almost forget, now and then, the darkness outside.” Although this gem won’t be making literary canons anytime soon, Shaffer and Barrows manage to illuminate an oft-overshadowed corner of wartime living.

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