Mary Ann Shaffer's The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is an utter joy of a book, beautifully judged, witty, lively, almost Mitfordesque at times, sparky, extremely touching, and I can't recommend it highly enough.
In early 1946 the popular writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a Guernsey farmer, who happens to have acquired a book she once owned. So begins an extraordinary correspondence between Juliet and the various members of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society to which the shy but dependable Dawsey belongs, and in which the details - both funny and tragic - of the German occupation of the island come to light.
So enamoured is Juliet of her new pen-friends and the life that they describe that she determines to write her next book about the island in wartime and she takes up residence there to begin her research. She soon realises that the person who should be at the book's heart is the one islander she has yet to meet: the spirited, much-loved Elizabeth McKenna, transported to a concentration camp for her bravery and defiance in the face of the enemy, leaving behind her infant daughter Kit - to whom Juliet becomes close - and the secret of the child's paternity.
Written in epistolary form (and it does bear comparison with Helene Hanff's wonderful 84 Charing Cross Road), the book is both a love story and an unemotionally honest picture of its subject matter, but yet it has a light touch and is full of distinct and engaging characters such as Isola Pribby with her passion for the Brontes and her homemade potions, John Booker the wine-loving valet who's a fan of Seneca, Jonas Skeeter and his dim view of Marcus Aurelius : "...[he] was an old woman - always taking his mind's temperature...." and Clovis Fossey, who is much taken with poetry since joining the Society, and writes "Mrs. Maugery lent me a book last week. It's called The Oxford Book of Modern Verse, 1892-1935. They let a man named Yeats make the choosings. They shouldn't have. Who is he - and what does he know about verse?"
Sadly, Mary Ann Shaffer died earlier this year; her legacy is this simply lovely book which has been a great pleasure to read.