I dearly love this book. Or, more like, I dearly love the characters within this book. Rereading this is like going to visit friends. Those tend to be my favorite kinds of books, so it's no wonder this is one of my top ten novels ever. In fact, this is one of those rare books that, whenever I see a used copy at the thrift store or library book sale, I buy it so that I have a spare to give away to some book-loving friend when the opportunity arises. I've done that three times, I think. So far!
This is the first time I've read this since 2012, when I read it twice back-to-back. This time through, I read it oh-so-slowly, savoring every morsel. All the historical details, the gentle humor, the slow-simmering romance, the character growth -- I drank it in small sips so it would last as long as possible.
This book is not Great Literature. It is, however, heartwarming, and sometimes thought-provoking. The characters love books the way I do. The details about life during WWII in England, especially Guernsey, fascinate me.
I suppose I should briefly tell you the plot. Miss Juliet Ashton, London author, gets a letter from Mr. Dawsey Adams, Guernsey farmer. Dawsey bought a used copy of essays by Charles Lamb that used to be Juliet's, and her name and address were inside, so he wrote to ask if she knew of Lamb ever wrote more essays, because he loved them. By exchanging letters with Dawsey, Juliet learns what life was like on the island of Guernsey during WWII, which has only just ended. The Germans occupied the island, and life was very hard there for years, but Dawsey and his friends kept up their spirits partly by forming a reading club. Juliet is soon corresponding with lots of people on the island, with the idea of writing a book about their experiences during the occupation. The book is told almost entirely through letters and telegrams between lots of different characters, though there's a bit at the end that's an entry into a notebook, which I wish was also written as a letter, just for consistency, but oh well.
When I posted a snippet of this earlier this month, I realized I was overdue for a reread and picked it up again. Also, several people asked about the book's content, as they'd heard various reports about it. So I'll report on that a bit more than I usually do. There is more bad language in it than I'd remembered, including a few instances of God's name being taken in vain. The language level is consistent with what you'd read it a book written in the '40s -- curse words, not scatological language, in other words. There's also a character who has a child out of wedlock, which is never addressed by the good characters as being wrong. There's a very minor negative character who disapproves of everything and everybody and considers it "her Christian duty" to reprimand people for things like making friends with Germans, which could be considered a negative portrayal of Christianity, though I consider it a negative portrayal of bad Christianity. And yes, there are two homosexual characters, one in London and one on Guernsey. The fact that they are gay is mentioned a few times, primarily to explain why one of them isn't marrying another character. There's a line about another character inquiring if he has "a touch of the old Oscar Wilde" (p. 19), too.
Particularly Good Bits:
That's what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It's geometrically progressive -- all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment (p. 11-12).
I don't believe he is aware of it, but Dawsey has a rare gift for persuasion -- he never asks for anything for himself, so everyone is eager to do what he asks for others (p. 37).
I don't believe that after reading such a fine writer as Emily Bronte, I will be happy to read again Miss Amanda Gillyflower's Ill-Used by Candlelight. Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books (p. 53).
Sorrow has rushed over the world like the waters of the Deluge, and it will take time to recede. But already, there are small islands of -- hope? Happiness? Something like them, at any rate (p. 104).
Not even the Germans could ruin the sea (p. 105).
I don't know what ails Adelaide Addison. Isola says she is a blight because she likes being a blight -- it gives her a sense of destiny (p. 113).
...I sometimes think I prefer suitors in books rather than right in front of me. How awful, backward, cowardly, and mentally warped that will be if it turns out to be true (p. 121).
Isola exaggerates, but only enough to enjoy herself (p. 129).
Sidney, in these past two or three years, I have become better at writing than living -- and think what you do to my writing. On the page, I'm perfectly charming, but that's just a trick I learned. It has nothing to do with me (p. 160).
Dawsey is dark and wiry, and his face has a quiet, watchful look about it -- until he smiles (p. 161).
This obsession with dignity can ruin your life if you let it (p. 274).
If This was a Movie, I would Rate it: PG-13 for profanity, description of life in a concentration camp, and other war-related themes of violence and loss.