Mary Ann Shaffer only discovered that the Germans occupied Guernsey during WWII while researching for another book in England. On a whim during this trip she made a visit to Guernsey and was fascinated by her brief glimpse and gave her the impetus to write this novel albeit it many years later. Sadly ill health meant she was never able to finish the book , but her niece Annie Barrows herself an author stepped in and finished the project, for which Mary Ann gives special thanks in her acknowledgements.
In her own words her intentions in writing this story were “If nothing else, I hope these characters and their story shed some light on the sufferings and strength of the people of the Channel Islands during the German Occupation. I hope, too, that my book will illuminate my belief that love of art-be it poetry, storytelling, painting, sculpture, or music-enables people to transcend any barrier man has yet devised”.
I think she has succeeded with her intentions and shown us what an impact the occupation had on the inhabitants of the Channel Islands. I was especially interested as I have a brother in law who was born in Guernsey just a few years after the end of WWII.
The novel is written in the form of letters from and to the protagonist Juliet Ashton, starting with her publisher and her best friend then by sheer chance a Guernsey islander, Dawsey Adams. They exchange letters and through a love of reading forge a friendship. Juliet is researching a subject for her next publication at this time and it is through Dawsey and other islanders he puts her in touch with that her ideas start to form. Eventually very much against the wishes of her beau Markham V. Reynolds she heads off to visit the island and her new found friends.
The society of the title came into being as a literary society due to a group of neighbours being caught out after curfew by the occupying German soldiers during WWII. They had been enjoying a forbidden roast pig together and it was only quick thinking by one of the group that saved them from being arrested. On the spot she invented the literary society and invited the soldiers to drop in any time to discuss literature! The Potato Peel Pie part came about due to one of the group saying that if he had now had to attend society meetings regularly there needed to be refreshments provided. With a scant shortage of ingredients available Potato Peel Pie was invented, became a favourite and was added to the society’s name.
Recommended, but do not forget it is fiction!