The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

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I must admit I thought this book would be a boring read when I first opened it, despite it’s magnificent title. The first page was a letter. So was the second and third and, in fact, flicking through the book I found it comprised entirely of letters to people!

How tiresome, I thought. How terribly lazy. But then I remembered that some of the most beautiful books I had ever read were comprised of letters. Letters do not hinder a plot if they are properly written.

I also learnt a new word in the reading of this book, although not gleaned from the book itself! It is ‘epistolary’, meaning ‘contained in, or carried on by letters’.

This book was captivating. The character development was excellent, and through the letters one could see exactly what everybody thought of each other, and how their relationships developed through the stories of hardship and moments of laughter during the war. Characters who didn’t even exist in the novel, their voices created by other characters, were so vibrant and alive, that it was quite an unfortunate disappointment to find they never made an entrance at all.

The story follows the tales of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a covert group formed  in the Guernsey Islands during the second world war. Books were scarce in Guernsey, and so was food and luxuries, but they never lacked for love. The story is told through the multiple perspectives of the Islanders, the majority of whom had emerged from the war unscathed. The letters are sent to a certain Juliet, a writer herself, who, in undertaking a literary project, found herself drawn into the lives of these islanders. What happens next I will let you find out yourself.

I am so glad I own this book now, it is one I would recommend recommend recommend. It’s sad and sweet and also surprisingly informative.

What I loved most about this story was that it was centred around, and celebrated books in a most familial and cosy way. It is not very often that you will come across a book that fits so perfectly in your hands, that sits so comfortably in your soul, that promises to stay with you forever and ever, it’s words a nostalgic echo through the passages of time. So, that being said, I will end my review with one of my favourite quotes from this classic treasure of a novel:

Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.

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Life.

I want to sit hunched over my desk, writing passionately by the light of my cosy lamp with the patchwork crocheted quilt my aunt made me as a wedding present draped comfortably over my shoulders. A steaming mug of strong, unsweetened green tea by my side as the words flow from my fingertips.

I can’t, though. Work calls to me, my hours of scheduled online teaching. My university course clamours for my attention, emails from tutors about weekly deadlines and complicated assignments setting alarm bells in my brain, forming a buzzing background noise which eats away my focus on anything else I might be doing.

I want to write all night then fall asleep in my bed, kept warm by a sleeping Damian. I want to wake up late and start writing again, or flick lazily through an interesting magazine, or have a gripping book in my hands, my fingernails squeezed white against the creamy grain of my novel.

I also want to curl up into a ball and cry about non existent characters, and contemplate life as it cycles slowly by.

I could lose everything in an instant. I am mourning losses which haven’t occurred. Imagining accidents which haven’t happened and may never happen. Worried daily and nightly about the people I love, thinking each time I say goodbye to them that it might be the last time I do so. Wondering, where is my catch? Is it my premature, rare female baldness? Is it my ability to feel so alone in a world full of people?

But life must go on. People must get out of bed on cold morning when they don’t want to, their bodied perfuming their morning rituals while their minds are still cozied up in their beds. People must tend to other people, complete their jobs, earn their living, else the world would come to a slow grinding halt, and things would fall apart. What is keeping this world together is the average, daily person, waking up each morning and forcing themselves to go to whatever it is they must go to. The mother to her child, the businessperson to their meetings, the builder to their construction site, the engineer to their factory or field or office. Men, women, young, old. All these cogs in the machine of earth. All these souls walking steadily to their destinations. Some may be struck down suddenly, others have become too weary to go on, their bodies withered and frail, their limbs trembling. And the smallest of us are still learning about the world, their minds an endless abyss of joy and wonder, laughter and fascination, feeding their minds so that one day they too can start the long weary walk to There.

Where is There? What are we all walking towards?

A feverish excitement has taken over my limbs, rendering them shaky and frightened, lost because they don’t know the source.

Well I can’t help them. I don’t know the source either.

On Writing

I think that sometimes I think I am a good writer, when in actual fact I must be amateur at best. The false confidence I get from thinking that way means I do not practice my writing, or carry on with any of my writing projects, because I put it in my head that I will eventually publish a book one day.

But, dear readers, the fact of the matter is very clear here: I will never publish anything if I never write anything, and if I never write anything, I won’t be a ‘writer’, I will just be a ‘dreamer’. Just like an artist is no artist if the artist isn’t creating any art.

I love writing. I write to quench the thirst my soul has to explore things one can’t touch. Do you, as a writer, write daily? Do you challenge yourself to write things, even on the days when writing feels like piling broken bricks over each other with nothing to hold them together, and watching helplessly as they topple all over the place?

Here are some of my favourite quotes about writing:

“Start writing, no matter what. The water doesn’t flow until the faucet is turned on” – Louis L’Amour

“Words can be like X-Rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.” – Aldous Huxley, Brave New World.

“Imagination is like a muscle. I found out that the more I wrote, the bigger it got.” – Phillip Jose Farmer.

“You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.” – Jack London.

Feel free to share your favourite quotes about writing. Happy writing to you all!

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A General Piece of Information

This is a small update to note that on the left side of my frontal scalp, a small bald patch is appearing. It is not in keeping with the diffuse hair loss taking place at the top of my scalp. It appears, curiously enough, to have accelerated the hair fall in that particular area more significantly than any other.

Once the side I showed to the public, being so full of hair and new growth, it has now become the shameful side that is a little worse than it’s symmetrical opposite.

I think that I am beyond being sad about it all. I just want answers now. I demand answers, in fact.

I am printing out a five sheet research paper on hair loss, possible causes, and have even delved into the pure biochemistry of it all, with some equations and explanations of the various enzymes causing my hair follicles to weaken and drop out at a higher rate than they deign to grow in. I have listed the possible inhibitors which will inhibit the inhibition that is causing the production of the evil sister of testosterone, and which is causing my hair to fall out.

You may think that this is pretentious. But I have been seeing GPs since 2012. GPs are not hair specialists, and most of those I spoke to about the medical reasons behind my hair loss (years of extensive research) hadn’t a clue what I was talking about. So how can they help me if they don’t know what I am talking about?

I am going to present my research to my General Practitioner when I go in on Monday to discuss the fairly normal results of my  most recent blood tests. I will discuss my conclusions, and use them as an earnest argument in my case to be referred to a hair specialist. I shall show my doctor images of my hair from six months ago, to today. There has been a significant change.

My doctor might think me odd, or assume I am suffering from hypochondria, but I shall persevere. I am quite tired of being shunned by the medical world. Hair matters, folks! It’s not cancer, but it matters.

I will end my post with a quote that I find oddly fitting, never mind it came from the mouth of an atrocious woman.

The distance the shot-put goes, depends upon the effort that you PUT INTO IT. PERSPERATION! – Agatha Truncbull, Matilda, (1996 film).

Something I found hilarious.

“Do you know what the first line from my favourite book is?” I said to my husband, while he was putting on his socks.

“Go on,” said he. He wasn’t interested. He isn’t interested in my books.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

I didn’t expect him to heed what I said. I just wanted to brag.

“Ah,” he stood up and took both my hands in his, a grave expression on his face but his eyes as merry as you please. “And when that man with a good fortune claims a wife as his own,” he paused, for effect, I think,

“he’s broke!”.

The One With the Appraisal (Warning: Contains Spoilers.)

Just another pretentious word used to avoid using the common, cliche word. Aka ‘review’. Yes I can be arty farty like that.

So what am I reviewing?

The Girl With All the Gifts.

M. R. Carey.

WARNING: Contains spoilers. Do NOT proceed if you are unwilling to read spoilers. You have been duly notified. Enter at your own risk.

A girl. A teacher. A soldier. A scientist. Lots of Hungries. And a world so familiar, yet so devastatingly foreign, consumed by the tendrils of mycelial doom.

Does she have all the gifts? Yes indeed, for in her mind the secrets of this apocalyptic universe stay hidden, stagnant, waiting to be unlocked.

Readers, I struggled against myself to buy this book. I had a tottering pile of books in my arms already, my change was running out, it had started to rain. But the pros were shoved circumstantially in my face. It was ever so cheap. And the lady who wanted to get rid of it was enthusiastic that I would enjoy it, despite clearly seeing a ‘Little Men’ and a ‘What Katy Did Next’ wedged firmly in the crooks of my arms.

The bright yellow cover and scarlet inner cover were plastered over with short, sweet, compelling little sentences, little nudges, like a babble of eager voices clamouring for me to take a big, fleshy bite out of this so-called universal wonder.

IF YOU READ ONE NOVEL THIS YEAR, MAKE SURE IT’S THIS ONE.

And

TAKES HOLD OF YOU AND DOESN’T LET GO.

And

AS FRESH AS IT IS TERRIFYING.

Which, I am pleased to say, it was.

Naturally curious, I decided to buy it, and read it. I read it across the Channel, rocking to and fro in a tight little cabin. I poured over it whilst waiting in queues, drinking coffee, travelling on coaches until finally, slumped over a crisp hotel bed, my husband complaining about the clothes I bundled up and threw into the wardrobe in my eagerness to get back to the story, I turned the last page.

But the page turner ended with an anti-climax. I don’t know why. I should have expected the ending, because really what else could have happened?

Truth is, I was awaiting a monstrous, thunderous ending. One which would leave my soul shattered, my heart in pieces on the ground, crunching beneath the literary feet of this magnificent work of art.

The writing was quick-paced, enticing. When I began the story, I knew as much as the child protagonist did. I learnt with her. Which I thought was a brilliant way to go about world building. We do not learn of the apocalypse until the point of view shifts from the child to the adults.

It appeared to be the same old ‘zombie apocalypse’ situation that has taken over entertainment media by a storm, from TV series like ‘The Walking Dead’ to video games like ‘Resident Evil’. Dead people, chasing living people for their flesh.

The only difference was that M.R. Carey decided to give a plausible, believable reason for this illogical feeding frenzy. I won’t go into specifics because SPOILERS but I thought the explanations were remarkably on point and actually interesting enough to keep me invested and ‘hungry’ for more.

The world building was solid, vivid. The dilapidated ruin of roads and buildings, left untouched for two decades, the emaciated, frightening appearance of the hungries, their mechanical, inhuman feeding patterns, the way humans had to tiptoe past them because they only responded to sensory interruptions, a mechanism used by the pathogen inhibiting their brains to zero in on its prey; the absolute chaos of the world, the junkers, the makeshift city, fungal takeover.

I suppose the reason why I felt dissatisfied by the ending was because there seemed to be so many threads left dangling! Who are these junkers? What happened to the junkers on their trail? What happened to all the junkers anyway? Why didn’t we get to see Beacon? Why had the communication stopped? What happened to Charlie? How was Rosie abandoned really? Was everybody dead? What happened in the future? Was Miss Justineau really going to be resigned to that meagre job for the rest of her life?

I recommend this book, readers, I do. I just think there could have been more.

In Which I Talk About Books

Good morning, fair maidens and noble gentlemen.

I went to a car boot sale on the Sunday morning past. I have never been to a car boot sale before, this is my first time. I must say I was rather excited. I was just thinking of all the books stored in people’s attics that they have no use for anymore (GOODNESS knows why!).

It was scheduled to rain, but people had their spreads out in rows; long aisles of cars and the unwanted clutter of pasts and long bygones spread out in front of them, while heavy clouds gathered above.

“It’s going to rain”, the sellers said to each other over steaming cups of tea, as buyers milled around their piles of junk, “Awf’lly gloomeh today”, their Leicester accents sticking out a mile.

But oh, there were some remarkable people there. People with boxes of the most beautiful books I have ever seen. I don’t know why they would want to sell off such beauties, but I was glad for it.

Here are the titles I deemed fit to buy:

  1. First and foremost, What Katy Did Next, by Susan Coolidge. I have read this book, and I own it too, butI don’t own THIS beautiful old red hardback! The publication date isn’t specified at all, but it’s certainly around 1940-1950, and has the old, slightly musty, most delicious bookish smell that is only reserved for really old books. At the cost of 25p. That is a quarter of a pound, which is 38 cents in American dollars. How’s that, eh?
  2. Next I found, amid tremendous heart palpitations and small breathless squeals of excitement, Little Men by L.M. Alcott. It is the third book to follow Little Women and I have been looking for a beautiful old copy for YEARS, and to finally have it, at the grand price of 20 pence, is to be in pure bliss. Inscribed on the inside cover in large, sprawling handwriting is this: Joyce Pallenden, 15 Estcourt Rd, South Norwood, CHRISTMAS 1948. How endearing. How alluring. Somebody got this for Christmas in London two years after the end of the second world war. What was her life like? How old was she? Is she still alive, even?
  3. Life of Pi, by Yann Martel. I haven’t read this book yet, but I am anxious to sink my teeth into it because I have watched the film (yes, I know, NEVER watch the film before reading the book..) and I found the story so fascinating and haunting.
  4. Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe, Jenny Colgan. I love baking. The author mentioned that she was inspired by The Great British Bakeoff, and I ADORE the Bakeoff, so I reckoned that, at the price of 20p, this was the book for me.
  5. My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You, by Louisa Young. Saw this last year when I was meandering about in Dublin, and I have wanted it since. 25p. What a bargain.
  6. The Girl With All the Gifts, M.R. Carey. 50p. Guys, the man who sold it to me said nice things about my growing pile of books, and offered to give me a bag to hold them all. He even commented on my choice of books, saying how his daughter loves What Katy Did. Then his wife spoke up and told me that the book I was looking at was a wonderful read, and how she thoroughly enjoyed it, and they seemed like such a bookish little family so of course I couldn’t resist. Okay? OKAY? Completely justified.
  7. Last, but not least, The Dubliners, by James Joyce. 50p. A Penguin Classic edition. I couldn’t believe my luck! “Look!” I exclaimed to my sister in law, who had been all this time patiently following me around on my book frenzy, “I need this for my course, and they told me I had to spend £7.99 on it!”. She didn’t exhibit any interest, apart from a raise of the eyebrows and an exaggerated ‘wooowwww’, followed by a smile. “Go for it then”, she said. So I did. “Good luck with your course”, the lady selling it to me said, ever so kindly, handing me my change. How sweet was that?

So those are my books, and this was my haul. I hope you enjoyed it. I might feel inclined to post a review or two here after I have devoured my precious finds. I do so love finding well-loved childhood classics to keep at home, don’t you?

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