I picked up The Guernsey Literary etc. because it was sitting on a table near the door as I went to ride the bicycle at the gym (Gold’s to be accurate) one day last week, it was a light paperback, and it was short. Also, because I had heard it was a pretty good book. I didn’t know if I would finish it or not, but within a day or so, I had read it all and enjoyed it immensely.
It’s the story of a young woman, an English journalist and writer of adolescent, humorous fiction, living in London just after the last World War, wondering what is to become of her, frustrated at not being able to pursue her more serious journalism, frustrated at being single in a world that needs connections.
By chance, she becomes involved in correspondence with someone on the Isle of Guernsey, someone who bought a used copy of a book by Charles Lamb, a copy she used to own, with her name and address written inside. He writes her to see if she knows how to get other books by Lamb, and this single letter starts a chain of reactions that changes her life in ways unexpected.
Guernsey, a channel island, as near to France as to England, had been occupied by the Germans during the war, thus experiencing a fate not shared by any other part of the UK. To explain why they were outside after curfew (the real reason being sufficient to lead them to a German prison), a group if islanders tell the occupying soldiers that the meeting of their literary society just ran a little late. While this did the trick of allowing them to retain their freedom, it also meant that they needed to form a literary society. And this led to Charles Lamb, and everything else.
This novel-in-letters tells of romance, adventure, personal relationships of many kinds, and (not unimportantly) of life on Guernsey during the occupation. I highly recommend it.
When I praised it to my daughter, she said “you must like epistolary novels”. I told her that I hadn’t thought of it that way, that there were some that I liked and some that I didn’t. But then I thought about what I have read, and I couldn’t come up with many. I only thought of two, and when I looked the subject up on Wikipedia, I realized that they aren’t as common as you might think.
The two I remember reading I actually liked a lot, so perhaps she is correct. One, well known, is Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The other, less well known, but laugh out loud funny is Sholom Aleichem’s Marienbad. Both highly recommended.