It's serendipity again, two books arrive from sources thousands of miles apart, one from a big UK publisher, the other self-published from the US and they connect. In fact they connect and speak to each other as if they were old friends and when it happens it creates one of those memorable reading moments.
I've had the proof copy on the shelf since the day it made Scott Pack cry and Bloomsbury sent me one to make me cry too and the nation is probably now joining us, as the book with surely the catchiest title of the year, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Anne Shaffer hits the shelves. A Bloomsbury publicity campaign to match, whilst I doubt many people will even notice Libby Cone's novel War on the Margins which is a pity, so I'm hitching it a ride on the Bloomsbury horse.
If you read the former whatever you do don't miss the latter and I'm keeping my promise to bring you some books from lesser known publishers alongside all this Booker madness too.
I get masses of e mails from writers publishing their own novels and I do peruse them all carefully and agree to take a look at the book if it intrigues me. Libby Cone's book did intrigue and War on the Margins arrived hotfoot from the US all the way to Devon just as I was turning the final pages of the Potato Peelers. I started reading the first few pages and before I knew it that became a hundred. Nor has Libby fallen into any of the pitfalls that seem to beset the self-published author, no paper that weighs a ton, no close-set typeface and no gutter-margins filled to capacity with unreadable text. The book is a pleasure to have and to hold.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was such a good read as an author embarks on a correspondence with the Guernsey islanders in the years immediately following the German Occupation of the Channel Islands during the Second World War. Slowly a picture builds of just how traumatic it has all been and how far-reaching are the effects of the occupation and the book most certainly upholds that fine tradition of the epistolary novel. People will divulge by letter a great deal more than they may be willing to reveal face to face and the fountain pen on the cover undoubtedly assists the imagination here. There is place of safety 'twixt pen and paper, plus it's a fine tool for progressing a plot and revealing those hidden character traits.
Even Jane Austen thought as much and now I'm recalling another wartime epistolary novel which has been loved by everyone I've recommended it to, Address Unknown by Kressman Taylor published by Souvenir Press.
Talking of letters did you see the wonderfully thoughtful and perceptive piece by Julian Barnes on Penelope Fitzgerald's letters in The Guardian last weekend? These letters are something very special indeed, I'm reading a few each day to make them last and will share my early thoughts soon.
Sadly Mary Ann Shaffer died earlier this year but her niece, children's author Annie Barrows ,has helped bring The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society to fruition and a lasting legacy that Mary Ann would certainly have been proud of.
Libby Cone meanwhile has created her novel, War on the Margins out of her research for a Master's dissertation on the wartime occupation of neighbouring Jersey. It's Faction again and taking actual documents Libby capably and confidently weaves a pitch-perfect novel out of the facts surrounding the oppression of the Jews on the island and the resistance movement set up by surrealist artists Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore (Lucille and Suzanne). It's gripping, heart-rending reading and as you read the original and progressively more bewildering edicts issued by the Nazis against the Jews you realise again, as if you needed reminding, just how ridiculously terrible it all was.Considering this is research transformed it all sat very comfortably as I read, no ten tons of obstructively heavy or thesis-like information to detract.
If these books should make you want to read more on the occupation of the Channel Islands, Libby has helpfully put together a reading list .
So there you have it, I spoil you all, three completely rewarding reads and an unmissable book of letters for the price of one today.