That Guernsey book

I finished listening to that Guernsey book and while I’m still not willing to forgive it its awful title, especially since the potato peel pie part of it is mentioned only once and could easily be dispensed with, I really did enjoy it all the way through. There are other things I’m having trouble forgiving the book for, including being a Pride and Prejudice tribute and updating. There’s no good reason someone’s tribute to Pride and Prejudice should irritate me except that everybody’s doing it these days, but that’s enough reason for me. Everybody’s writing tributes to that book, and I wish they would do something new and different instead. I also think the book goes out of its way at times to set up a cute scene and the plot machinations are too obvious.

But all that aside, my point here is that I really did like the book. It’s the kind of book that makes me confront the fact that in spite of priding myself on being cynical and blasé about heart-warming, feel-good novels, I’m susceptible to them. On the one hand, I really, genuinely don’t like them: they are unrealistic and emotionally manipulative. The characters tend to be too good to be true and the world they live in too simple. Things work out in a way they never do in life, and they encourage unrealistic expectations. On the other hand, if a book is as well-written as this one is, I can’t help but get caught up in the story, which is, as we all know, an intensely pleasurable experience. I found myself tearing up embarrassingly often as I was listening to the story unfold; it’s good I was alone in the car as I listened to it because otherwise I would have had good reason to be embarrassed.

In spite of the varied and conflicting emotions I felt as I listened to this book, I think I kept enough critical distance to be able to say that it’s well-done. It has a good mix of the serious with the lighter material; there was enough darkness because of the post-WWII setting to keep the book from feeling frivolous. The characters were well-drawn (although maybe a little too much on the quirky side now and then), and the epistolary form used well. I really do love epistolary novels, so that was a real pleasure. All-in-all, it was worth overlooking the title for.

14 Comments

Filed under Books, Fiction

14 responses to “That Guernsey book

  1. adevotedreader

    I hated the title as well, although I quite enjoyed the book. It was a bit too neat at times but like yourself, I did find it emotionally affecting. I also have an increased desire to read more Charles Lamb.

  2. Oh, I SO want to think I am cynical and blase, but all you have to do is sit me down in front of “It’s a Wonderful Life” to prove how much I’m not. I’ve been avoiding this one (yes, because of the title, despite being told by many that it’s good), but I might give it a chance one of these days. After all, hating the title is exactly what I did with Eat, Pray, Love (another one that your blog post convinced me to add to my TBR tome), and I ended up really liking that book when I finally got past the title.

  3. I agree with you about such books being unrealistic and emotionally manipulative with characters too good to be true and the world they live in too simple. I wonder if they truly encourage unrealistic expectations, however. I like such books every once in a while precisely because they are so variant from real life, and steady doses of real life can be rather depressing. I suppose if I were younger I might be seduced into thinking a fairy tale existence were possible, but now I like them from time to time in the same way I might like a book about vampires or planets in a distant galaxy.

  4. I couldn’t *quite* put my inner cynic to the side when listening to this book, but I did enjoy a great deal of it. The epistolary form, the good descriptive writing, the clever banter, the setting make a great combination. My inner cynic is just notoriously hard to silence.

  5. I think it’s admirable in you to listen to this book even though you were biased against it, and to then be open about liking it, despite certain flaws. I have a really hard time getting over biases of my own enough to give the book a fair shot.

    I was thinking about the cynicism issue a lot while reading Of Human Bondage, a book significantly MORE cynical than I am, especially about “love” (or, actually I would say he’s writing about obsessive lust). I shy away from “feel good” novels too, but are they really any less realistic than something like Proust, Maugham or Lessing, who make out that every single person is a self-destructive neurotic bent on embroiling themselves in unhappy relationships? I don’t know. Occasionally I like a little Cold Comfort Farm or whatever, to balance out the overly-cynical stuff (not that the dark stuff doesn’t have its compensations).

  6. I think books get inside you and can alter the colourwash in your mind – and so it’s perfectly acceptable every now and then to have something frothy and light and cheerful. Particularly in the dark days of December. Definitely on my list to be picked up very soon.

  7. Ok, I’ll definitely keep this in mind next time I need something light and comforting.

  8. Like you, I’ve heard good things about this book, but have been turned off by the title. Perhaps I will give it a try some time.

    What Emily said, above, is so true “… who make out that every single person is a self-destructive neurotic…” When I read some of the jacket copy on books, I can’t help but think real life isn’t nearly as awful or dysfunctional for most people as these authors would have us think! If we have swung from too many “feel-good” novels to too many cynical ones, perhaps the new modern novels will find a balance, with some good events happening to their characters, as well as the bad, difficult ones.

  9. well now this book goes on my list. i’ve got a number of other things ahead of it, but it’s on there. i hate tearing up when i feel like it’s being ripped out of me, but this doesn’t sound quite like that.

  10. Lol, I liked this one in spite of myself, too :)

  11. I hadn’t actually thought of this as a ‘feel good’ novel until I read your post and the comments, but that’s actually a pretty accurate description. I tend to stay away from ‘those sorts’ of novels, but once and a while they’re sort of nice as pure escapism. Sometimes it’s nice to read a story where things end happily as real life sure doesn’t always work out that way. And if nothing else I always find epistolarly novels very entertaining. I think I read somewhere that they’re making this into a movie?

  12. Glad you ended up liking it despite the issues you raise, all valid, but good writing will out in the end :)

    It’s not a Hallmark movie version of a book, though I suspect Hallmark is trying to get its corporate hands on the rights.

  13. I don’t think this book is as simple as it looks. Imagine the conflicting scenario of falling in love with an enemy during the war like Elizabeth, who I feel is the heroine of the story, not Juliet. The sad ending of the heroine is nothing cheery. A bit like the movie ‘Life is Beautiful’, I think its light-hearted atmosphere is just the channel of delivering some serious themes, such as the inhumanity of war, the ambivalence of sending one’s own child away for safety, the resilience of common folks, the courage and altruism of single individuals, and the power of literature. The CD too, presents the story vividly by having different voices instead of one narrator pretending to be different characters. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it despite its flaws.

  14. Adevotedreader — Oh, I want to read more Lamb as well! I have The Essays of Elia on my stacks, if only I could get to it.

    Emily B. — it’s worth getting past bad titles sometimes, definitely. I’m so glad you liked EPL, and maybe this one would be the same??

    Rhapsody — good question. My guess is that it’s personal — some people would treat it as pure escapism and not be affected, and others might have more trouble. I think I’m much the same as you — more likely to be affected when I was younger.

    Teresa — oh, I know what you mean about the inner cynic! Mine is sometimes at odds with my more sentimental side, and this book definitely caused a battle!

    Emily — I suppose it’s easier for me to get over my anti-sentiment bias than it would be to get over other ones since there is a part of me that is drawn to this sort of thing, in spite of myself :) And good point about balance — who’s to say that the feel-good, sentimental approach is so much worse than the cynical one?

    Litlove — yes, absolutely right about December, and it was nice to have some cheer on my drive to and from work. I hope you enjoy it when you get there!

    Stefanie — good, and I hope you like it!

    Debby — I think you might really like this one. I’d say it’s definitely worth the effort of getting over the title. So many people agree with me about the title, that I wonder why they chose it in the first place. I wonder what kind of trends there have been in terms of cynicism or feel-good novels — certainly we have more darkness in the 20th and 21st centuries, and yet I think the lighter stuff keeps getting published right alongside the darker stuff.

    Lilian — oh, no, it’s not like that; it didn’t feel manipulative to me. I hope you like it!

    Gentle Reader — I’m so glad you agree!

    Danielle — calling this a feel-good novel does overlook all the darkness, of which there is quite a bit. All the WWII stuff is pretty harsh. But it keeps a cheerful, hopeful tone nonetheless and achieves a pretty good balance, ultimately. I hope they do a good job with the movie!

    JaneGS — if they do make a movie out of this, I hope they do it well — if done well, it could be really entertaining, I think.

    Arti — you’re right that there is a lot of darkness and seriousness in the book. The structure of it emphasizes the happiness of the story, but along the way, it does have some harsh stories to tell. Interesting to see Elizabeth as the heroine — that reading does make sense.

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