I won this book last year from a giveaway over at A Readers Respite, it is a lovely hardback edition too so feels nice in your hands as you read. There has been a lot of coverage about this book in blogland so I was pleased to be able to read it for myself.
Told entirely in letters, it is the story of Juliet, a journalist in London in 1946, who is looking for some new material to write a book now that the war is over. Her inspiration comes from correspondence with a group of individuals who lived on Guernsey during the Nazi Occupation during the war, and who formed the society of the title, initially as a cover to get together without suspicion, but developing into a true appreciation of books and also of each other. We learn of the different characters who have become friends during the most testing of times, and of their support for each other. We also learn of one who is no longer with them because she was imprisoned by the Germans. Juliet becomes connected to the group, professionally at first, and also personally as she goes to visit them on Guernsey, and ends up extending her visit as her own life becomes entwined with theirs.
As we learn their stories, there are lots of references to their occupation, the conditions that they were forced to live with, and also accounts of the Germans as individuals, some ruthless but others who were kind. This provides an interesting backdrop to the individual stories, giving a slightly different slant to the many Nazi occupation stories that are about.
I found the general feel of the book to be optimistic and upbeat, even during the harrowing and troubled parts. The book does not allow you to dwell on these parts unnecessarily, conveying a post-war atmosphere of hope and regrowth after so much hardship and challenge, for some more horrific than for others. A lot of this good feeling comes directly from Juliet and also from other society members. Juliet is cheery and generous, embracing her new friends with enthusiasm. This generocity of character is reflected back to her from Amelia, Isola and of course Dawsey, and all the others, but it is never overdone to become cheesy. They are a joy to read about.
I found this book very easy to read and became involved with the characters quickly. Being all written in letters it was easily picked up and put down. I found that I read off 50 pages almost immediately, without blinking.
Essentially a selection of character studies, some quirky, others more conventional, all heroic, this book is ideal for readers who want something absorbing but not too challenging, and for those who crave a novel that gives the human race a hopeful glow. They say the worst of times can bring out the best in people and it helps to reinforce your belief in others with lovely novels such as these.
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