Genre: Epistolary, War
Narrative Style: A series of letters between a number of characters.
Synopsis: It is just after the second world war and Juliet Ashton is looking for her next writing project. When she gets a letter from a man she has never met who has found her name in a second hand book, she has no idea of the journey – both personal and professional – she will be taken on when she starts to correspond with him.
Time on shelf: A couple of years. I certainly had the book already when I watched the film during lockdown. I quite enjoyed the film. Having read the book, all I can say is well done to whoever managed to pull that film out of this book.
As ever, I find myself out of step with public opinion on this one. People seem to love this book but I had a real struggle to finish it. It’s a shame because there was some definite historical interest there and some of the stories told by the various people who Juliet corresponds with give a good impression of what life was like for the people of Guernsey under the Nazis.
This is not enough to save it. I quite like an epistolary novel but there a couple of problems with this one that could have been avoided if the author had chosen to tell the story in a different way. The first is that there are a lot of different correspondents here. After her initial contact with Dawsey Adams, she asks that others write to her about the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and there are then multiple strands of conversation going on. This brings about the second problem. For all their differences in class, gender, education and occupation, all of the voices sound the same. And despite the fact that they barely know Juliet, they are all more than happy telling her all the intimate details of their wartime lives.
There is only one correspondent that does not like Juliet – Adelaide Addison – and she is a ridiculously over the top villain who polices the morals of the islanders. It was hard to take her seriously as she was more stereotype than fully realised character. She is not the only one. Markham V. Reynolds, Juliet’s suitor, is also underdeveloped. He is a brash, rich, won’t take no for an answer American. Juliet has to turn down two proposals before he gets the message.
I would have liked to have more detail about some of the events but due to the sheer number of correspondents, things were often glossed over. By the end, the tales of war had been usurped by a ridiculous subplot about some letters that Isola Pribby has stored in a biscuit tin which it turns out were written by Oscar Wilde which are then almost stolen by a rival publisher.
I was pleased to get to the end of this. I found the format annoying and Juliet incredibly irritating. It’s not often I say this but in this case, the film was infinitely better.
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