This was, to my surprise, a really interesting and enjoyable novel that explored life on Guernsey Island after it was occupied by German forces during WW2. Our Book Club is proud of our collective heritages, and many of us have family members who lived in England during the war. Yet, we were all surprised to hear that the Channel Islands had been occupied at all. This book, through it's letter-writing format, did an excellent job of telling a great story and developing memorable and lovable characters, all while delivering a mini history lesson.
As one of our members pointed out, this book is a great example of how the post office used to work. In today's "IM-Text-Email-Cell Phone" society, information can be passed almost in real time. However, we tend to forget that with the evolution of instant communication came the downfall of traditional post. During the novel, Juliet's communications are made rather quickly. Much faster than you'd expect, and some of them mirror IMs of today! (In particular, the series of letters that fly through the post in a matter of hours where Juliet is coyly playing hard to get with her dinner date—whose name escapes me.) We also saw great example of this in Emma Donaghue's The Sealed Letter. It was delightful to see how fast things went through the post, and how it was used almost in the same sense as IM is used today.
Juliet was a lovable main character. You couldn't help but love her no-nonsense attitude. She was strong-willed and smart, making her a wonderful female protagonist. One of my favourite episodes that sums up Juliet, is the way she broke it off with her first fiancée. Upon moving in together, he boxes all of her books so that he can use the shelf space for his trophies. "Where will my books be kept?" she wonders. When she discovers he plans to keep them permanently boxed and put in the basement—she's had it! She kicks him out. What a great anecdote!
This book was full of hilarious characters, suck Isolda who reads the lumps on one's head to get an accurate reading of character, or Adelaine, who spews gossip about the members of the society (possibly because she's jealous she's not 'in'). But the book can develop a very serious undertone when it comes to discussing the fate of well-loved Guernsey resident Elizabeth. She was one of the brightest and best-loved women on the island, but she ended up in a concentration camp, and just before the war was over, she was executed. The folks of Guernsey took the news of her death hard, not just because she was well-loved, but because she represented hope, and love, and life. She was also mother to a spirited little girl called Kit, who had been adopted by the Book Club during Elizabeth's absence.
Kit was born of a relationship between Elizabeth and Christian. Christian was a German sent to aid with the occupation. After hearing Christian's story, we know that he was a good man, who had had good intentions for Elizabeth and Kit. Sadly he died as well. It is in characters like Christian that we are reminded that war was hell for everybody—not just the Allies.
Each character in this novel is unique, interesting, and his his or her own special story to tell. But no secondary characters stood out more than Dawsey and Sydney.
Dawsey started the correspondence with Juliet because he interested in reading more books by Charles Lamb. He'd seen Juliet's name in the back of the one book by Lamb that he owned. He requested more. There starts the Juliet's interest and eventual journey to Guernsey. We all thought at first that Dawsey was very old. His voice seemed to project that of a lonely old guy, just looking for some good reading to pass the time on the slow Island. However, upon reading more, we find that Dawsey is in fact quite young. When the spark between Juliet and Dawsey starts to ignite, the members of our book club we unsure of how a love story could evolve. However, in the end, Dawsey is shown to be a sweet love interest for Juliet. He values many of the same things that she does, and he also loves Kit.
Sydney was just a wonderful and witty character. At first it is hard to imagine that Juliet and Sydney are not in love, but upon discovering Sydeny's homosexuality, it's easy to see how the friends' relationship survives on a platonic level. The novel's tie-in to Oscar Wilde coupled with Sydney's story line implies that this group of people—so different from one another—accept each other's differences. The authors of this story really did an exceptional job of showing how a group of people from all different walks of life can truly come together and form a sort-of suedo-family. Stunning.
Overall, this book was very well-liked by all of the members of the Third Tuesday Book Club. I highly recommend this character-driven look at the occupation of the Channel Islands during WW2.
Movie—Sept. 4: We have decided to go see The Time Traveler's Wife on Sept. 4. Please check your inboxes closer to the day for theatre and time specifics. We know that some of you can't make it that day, but for those of you who can…see you there!
Meeting—Sept. 15: Lynne has graciously offered to hold this meeting at her home. Please check your inboxes for directions. (Coming Soon!) We will be discussing Andrew Davidson's The Gargoyle.