Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Book Review, a novel about a lively, humorous writing writer

THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, published by Dial Press, is high on my “Enjoyable Reads” list. In her letters to Islanders she doesn’t meet until well into the book, main character Juliet Ashton spits humor like snakes spew venom. You’ll definitely feel it for more than a minute, and her aim is always spot on.

The book is made up entirely of letters, with each writer carrying his or her own voice with flavorful precision. After a while, you don’t even need to look at the signature to know who the letter is from. Reading the first few pages, as a writer I was skeptical, thinking—there is no way anyone can string together an entire novel solely of letters and still let readers see any action, without it sounding forced. How could you sneak in those little details and quirks about a person, or show them in action, without reminding the reader they are basically only reading a second-hand account of what happened, one person repeating something they saw.
Well, what else does an author do, if not that?
I guess I thought it would be difficult to describe how somebody else said something. You know, to mention that every time they said this or that, they had a little twinkle in the eyes? But mainly, I feared a reader might suspect author intrusion too many times.
But not once did I ever feel the author intruded on any of these characters’ original voices, thoughts, or manner of speaking. And just as praises had said, I literally forgot I was reading fictional letters, because I got so lost and caught up in each character’s life, the gossip spread about, that I forgot this was a novel, entirely made up. Perhaps the wealth of historical tidbits thrown in helped make this world real to me.
Forgetting that I’m only reading does not happen to me often, because usually when I study as I go along. I try to analyze why authors make one choice over another, how they structure their sentences, create tension, describe telling details. It was impossible to do this after the first few pages into THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY, because I was no longer reading. I was experiencing.

I could never expect more from a book than that.