The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is about books, and people, and people who love books. The way the author describes the love of books, and bookstores, pulls you in, and you may find yourself often nodding in agreement with her words. As a bookseller I see the truth of this statement on a regular basis:
"I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that is true?"
At the heart of the Society is the people, and love, and how books, a book club, and especially the book club’s creator, brought together an eclectic group of people during World War II while the Germans occupied their island.
Written entirely in the form of letters from the island occupants to the London novelist, Juliet Ashton, and then in her letters to her friends and publisher, the story is slowly laid out, although not in chronological order. The characters keep it going with their abrupt honesty, as well as their painful revelations. The war has officially ended, but their hearts are still healing.
Each character introduces themselves by telling a piece of their story, including how they joined the book club, and a bit about their favorite book. This book, the parts they choose to quote, and what it means to them, give away just a tiny bit of their soul, and the novelist learns to love these people first from afar, then more deeply when she goes to visit them. Eventually, their stories become her story as she also embraces life after the war.
Because of its format, I knew the on-screen adaptation could not be a literal rendering of the book, so my best hope was that it would portray the spirit of the book and stay faithful to the characters and their stories.
The theatrical release of the movie, with the same long name, was limited to Great Britain, much to the disappoint of Guernsey Society fans everywhere. However, those of us in the United States were lucky enough to have Netflix pick up, for release on Aug. 10. It’s been about 30 minutes since I finished watching it (I watched in between customers … I know, you’re jealous you didn’t get to watch movies while you work!) this review is a quick first impression. I reserve the right to edit as the movie settles over me for the next day or so.
The first half of the movie matched my expectations of what I assumed would be a close, if not perfect adaption. Juliet is tired of the fictional character that’s made her a semi-famous author and wants something real to write about. Meanwhile she’s being courted by the handsome, charming, and yet slightly superficial Mark Reynolds. In the novel, we get to know the characters through their letters, with Juliet not meeting them in person until ¾ of the way through the book. The movie instead chooses to introduce our male lead Dawsey Adams though letters, and then quickly sends Juliet to Guernsey to get to know the other book club members.
While this change of pace felt abrupt and rushed right at first, it made sense to move things along at a movie pace and worked well at helping the viewer get to know the others in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. Without giving too much away, I felt the characters matched well with who I imagined them to be, as well as their love and affection for one another.
The second half of the movie deviated more from the original storyline, creating additional conflict for the eventual love triangle, and some suspense for how it would all end. Missing are two subplots that tied everything together in the book, but what replaced them worked well for the story and stayed true, overall, for the characters.
While not a perfect adaption, it was well done, and most Guernsey Society fans should be pleased with how the story turned out on the screen.
Conclusion: The book was better, but the movie is good too.