Posted by: Dr. Grover B. Proctor, Jr. | 4 July 2018

Another Slice of Potato Peel Pie, Please


 
Oh my, oh my! This is great news!!

I’ve learned that one of the best novels I’ve ever read (and one that I’ve blissfully read 3 times now — 4, if you count listening to the audio book!) has been made into a major motion picture, which will be available on American screens in about five weeks!

When my wife Adrianne and I stayed with friends in Dallas a couple of years ago, our hostess purposefully (but silently) left the novel on the bedside table in our guest room. I had failed to bring anything to read on the trip, which was quite unlike me, so I picked up the book. I found the title amusing and the plot summary gently intriguing, so I began reading. I fully intended to read only a few chapters to “unwind” in the evenings and then leave the book back on the table when we departed.

But, no! I became almost at once captivated by the story; entranced by a host of endearingly wonderful and beautifully drawn characters; beguiled by the book’s interwoven wit (which occasionally rose to the level of audible-chuckle-inducing humor); and thoroughly enmeshed in the author’s plainly sophisticated, intelligent, lovingly romantic, and warmly charming style. I simply did not want to quit reading, except for frequent pauses to look up, stare into space, and marvel at the glorious writing. The book hugged me all the way through.

Juliet AshtonIt is written in epistolary form, meaning that the story is told through the progression of letters and other messages sent between and among the characters. It is a totally daunting form in which to unwind a narrative, but the authors (more about the dual authorship below) seamlessly shift from one persona to the next with graceful ease. They have done it so well that you are quickly able to differentiate the various characters simply by the literary fingerprint of their distinct writing styles.

I was not even half finished with the book when it came time for us to travel home. So I took it to our hostess, and with as much of a pleading-puppy-dog look as I could muster said, “Elaine, if I solemnly promise to mail it back to you when I’m done, would you let me take this book with me? I just have to finish it!” She smiled and said that was exactly what she hoped and predicted would happen.

Okay, I’ve purposely withheld the name of the book until now, hoping to whet your “literary appetite” to know more. That should be easy, as the title of the novel intriguingly speaks to both literary delights and gustatory imagination.

The ten-year-old best-selling and widely loved novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, has been made into a major motion picture, and it will have its American debut on August 10.


 
T H E   B O O K


 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie SocietyThe story begins in post-war 1946 London, where heroine Juliet Ashton is on a book tour to promote the newly published volume of her wartime essays. Unfortunately, it isn’t going exceedingly well, and Juliet’s heart simply isn’t in it. Guernsey being a book of letters, it isn’t surprising that the next major plot point is when she receives a letter out of the blue from a farmer on the island of Guernsey, introducing himself, and asking what seem to Juliet to be some rather surprising questions about literature.

The story unfolds as Juliet learns that, during the war, several of the people of Guernsey formed a “literary society” by accident one night, which proved to be a serendipitous antidote to the island’s German occupation. That’s all I really want to reveal of the plot, because you will prefer it if the rest just unfolds as naturally and beautifully as it does in the book.

Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie BarrowsI mentioned the novel’s dual authorship, which was born of tragedy. After Mary Ann Shaffer (bottom right in photo) had completed her final draft of Guernsey, all that was left was a series of re-writes and edits requested by her editor. But then, unimaginably, Shaffer fell ill and died. This was her first, and therefore only, novel, and the enormity of the “what might have beens” is heart breaking.

The grief of losing such a marvelous talent must have been agonizing enough, but what to do about the book? Everybody who had read it surely knew what an amazing document it was. Happily for the sake of literature, her niece Annie Barrows (upper left in photo) was available to step in and finish the work, allowing it therefore to go to press and then out into the world.

When Guernsey was published in 2008, critics and readers alike found it irresistible. The media fell over themselves in expressing their praise, and most of them placed it in their list of the “Ten Best Books of the Year.” Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, confessed that “I kept forgetting this was a work of fiction populated with characters so utterly wonderful that I kept forgetting they weren’t my actual friends and neighbors.”

Typical of the many glowing reviews, below is an excerpt from England’s The Guardian:

A bibliophilic jeu d’esprit!
 

     
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society commemorates beautiful spirits who pass through our midst and hunker undercover through brutal times. Shaffer’s Guernsey characters step from the past radiant with eccentricity and kindly humour, a comic version of the state of grace. They are innocents who have seen and suffered, without allowing evil to penetrate the rind of decency that guards their humanity.
      Shaffer’s writing, with its delicately offbeat, self-deprecating stylishness, is exquisitely turned, bearing a clear debt to Jane Austen. She shows, in addition, an uncanny ability to evoke period, miming its manners and mannerisms — not only in the reminders of blitzed London but also in recreating a culture that reveres books.

— Stevie Davies, The Guardian

 


 
T H E   F I L M


 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie SocietyOf course, I haven’t seen the film yet — merely two versions of a two-and-a-half-minute trailer (see below). And I’m quite aware that the track record of cinematic adaptations of superior novels is, to put it bluntly, dismal. Nevertheless, I want this movie to be great so much that I am willing to let myself believe that it might actually rise to the literary occasion. It was directed by Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; Four Weddings and a Funeral), so there seems a better-than-even chance of its success.

The cast appears to have been well chosen. Juliet is brought to life by Lily James (Downton Abbey; Mamma Mia! 2). Portraying the heroine-author in Guernsey is the second of her “1940’s typewriter roles” — she was Churchill’s at-first terrified secretary in Darkest Hour. The arc of her finely tuned transformation in that role gives great hope for the subtleties that any faithful adaptation of this delicately nuanced book would require.

Juliet's typewriterThe three male leads, portraying the triumvirate through which Juliet must wind her way towards her final happiness, are (in alphabetical order) Matthew Goode (The Imitation Game; Downton Abbey), Michiel Huisman (Game of Thrones), and Glen Powell (Hidden Figures). The film is something of a mini-reunion for members of the Downton Abbey cast. Lily James (Lady Rose MacClare) and Matthew Goode (Henry Talbot) are joined by Penelope Wilton (Isobel Crawley) and Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sybil).

Guernsey cast

The film had its London premiere in April, but it will not reach America until Friday, August 10. And therein lies the one, and so far only, great disappointment for those of us on this side of the pond. All over the rest of the world, they are seeing Guernsey in movie theaters “on the big screen.” But StudioCanal and Blueprint Pictures, the European studios who produced and made the film, sold Guernsey‘s American distribution rights to Netflix — ensuring that the film will not be shown in American movie theaters! What were they thinking??

As a result, apparently the only way we in this country will be able to see the film is streaming over the Internet, and only if you have a Netflix account! I was so looking forward to taking Adrianne to the movies on opening night, treating her to popcorn and a frozen Coke, and holding hands while Juliet walks across the giant silver screen. Phooey!

There are, as you may imagine, no reviews from American critics for a movie that hasn’t even shown up here yet. But the reviews that are out there are giving the film a positive, if sometimes guarded and partial, thumbs up. The following is excerpted from an extended review in England’s The Telegraph.

A mini-break for the soul!
 

      Mike Newell’s adaptation is a film you don’t spend time with so much as spend time in: every location in this irresistible romantic mystery is like a little mini-break for the soul, every costume and piece of set-dressing nibble-ably gorgeous, and every character a pleasure to keep company with, even the rotters.
      Newell excels as a director of well-picked ensembles — which is why
Four Weddings and a Funeral worked as well as it did. Here again, he gives each of his cast members just enough room to stretch: a broad gag here, a hushed monologue there.
      This kind of magpie detail saves the film’s professed love of the written word from coming off as glib or trite, just as its story-within-a-story — the island’s Nazi occupation — brings a tug or two of gravity to the postwar romantic intrigue. It is a confection in every sense, but plump with natural sweetness.

— Robbie Collin, The Telegraph

 
 
I’ll end here with the film’s official British trailer (which I much prefer to the one fashioned for its American audience by Netflix), and share my hope that you’ll find a way to enjoy the cinematic Guernsey, as we in the Proctor household plan to do. And by all means, if you have not feasted on the book itself, absolutely do not waste time. Go out, get a copy, and start immersing yourself in the unfolding and irresistible delight therein.

 


 
British Trailer for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2:32)

The film is 124 minutes long. It has not yet been rated by the MPAA.
(The film was rated 12A in the UK, which is similar to the US PG-13.)

]
Guernsey quote

 

ARTICLE © 2018, DR. GROVER B. PROCTOR, JR. — ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

 


Responses

  1. Hello
    I don’t know how exactly I found your blog posting about my mother (and cousin’s book) TGLPPPS, but I was charmed reading it. I’ve seen the movie 3 times over in Guernsey, I was there for the premiere. And I’m glad to hear that you prefer the British trailer — I feel the same way. I was terribly disappointed when I saw the Netflix trailer and said a silent prayer that their sort of thinking hadn’t been a part of the making of the film itself. I wish you could see it on a big screen, but I guess we will all have to be satisfied with Netflix streaming. Of course, I don’t have an account yet…..but I will. As the daughter and cousin of the writers, I can’t be counted on for impartiality. But I was very relieved that the movie treated the Occupation as seriously as it did and I do disagree with critics who said the movie brushed over that part. I know the story the producers were trying to tell and I felt that, if one were actually listening to the dialogue, the viewer could get a taste of the privations and cruelty during that dark time on the Islands. To do a movie about the Occupation would require a different film — and this is an adaptation of the novel, after all. I know that when mom wrote the book, she was trying to find a vehicle that would tell readers about the Occupation, but without writing a history book…..she was astonished and chagrined that SHE had not heard of the Occupation and she soon learned that few people did seem to know about it. Her characters are charming and, of course, her love of books & writing shine through — but her goal was to tell readers about the Occupation. She felt it was a very important story of WWII and wanted others to know of it. Judging by the hundreds of emails and letters my cousin and I got after the book was published, I think her goal was accomplished. My cousin finished & carried the book forward after mom became ill and died and Annie has been inundated with comments from people about how odd it was that this significant bit of history had been dropped from many WWII storylines.
    Anyway, your write up is so kind and heartfelt — I do hope you will find the movie was worth watching. I, of course, loved it! All best, Liz F


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