12 Oct

the lost art of letter writing

I’ve just finished reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer. Set in post-WWII London and Guernsey, it’s written in the form of letters between characters. I wasn’t sure about that at first (it’s always hard to suspend disbelief that they could be collated from so many different sources), but it was delightful and very funny to read comments in passing about things that weren’t directly mentioned. Of course it’s from a time before even telephones made communication easy, so this was the only way to communicate. It wouldn’t be anywhere near as charming today. Good lord, imagine a contemporary one made out of emails and texts, emojis and dick picks. Shudder.

Dear Sidney,
Don’t believe the newspaper reports. Juliet was not arrested and taken away in handcuffs. She was merely reproved by one of Bradford’s constables, and he could barely keep a straight face.

I only had a couple of niggles with it. The first is the title; I’m sure the “potato peel pie” was only added to the name of the society to give the book a cutesey name, because it was very quickly explained and barely mentioned again. The second is that despite the main character mentioning that she’d learn that Guernsey was “roughly 7 miles long and 5 miles wide, with a population of 42,000”, the book reads like there’s maybe a couple of dozen people there max.

Dear Mark,
I’m sorry that our conversation ended badly last night. It’s very difficult to convey shades of meaning while roaring into the telephone…

Despite that, it was a delight and I very much recommend it if you are looking for something delightful. It made me want to live in post-war Guernsey, grow vegetables, and write long involved letters to my loved ones (but in email form, because I’m not that inspired). Hey, maybe that’s what I’m doing right now?

A while ago, I read another book, The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson. I suppose it’s another light fluffy novel, but I’d just read something heavy for book club and needed to cleanse my palate. It is set in Kent just before the start of WWI, and it is full of people with large houses throwing parties and living beautifully, with long conversations which seem inconsequential but so full of the sorts of cutting remarks and hilarious asides I wish I could make.

“I was referring to her respectful manners,” said Mrs Turber. “Something some of us could no doubt learn from.”

“Touche, Mrs Turber,” said Beatrice. “You are right, of course, and I am a shrew.”

“The royal family indeed,” said Mrs Turber. “I’ve never been so shocked.”

“Then I am doubly sorry, for I know you are a woman who is often shocked, Mrs Turber,” said Beatrice.

I came away from it saying things like “that’s jolly bad luck”, and wishing I had enemies to be so very politely vicious to. I’m sick (again) at the moment, and I’m rereading it because it’s so lovely even if you know things are soon going to take a turn for the worse. The writer also wrote Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, and from the looks of it that’s going to the top of my very long To Be Read list.

“I had better get in a few supplies,” said Agatha. “You know I like to be prepared… I’ll expect you to go to Fortnum and Mason on your way to the office and put in a  respectably small order for immediate delivery.”

“I should get a few things for town too,” said John. “My club dinners are bad enough in time of peace. A stock of Gentlemen’s Relish and some potted oysters should see me through some months of hostilities.”

See, now, that’s the spirit! Have you been reading anything good lately? Write me a letter.