Posted by: Pete | November 11, 2009

Latest review compares The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Ebenezer Le Page and Rachel’s Shoe

Three books about an island by Kate Cavendish

“How does one compare a selection of books set on the same small island tucked away in a remote corner of the English Channel, or ‘Le Golfe Normand-Breton’ if you prefer.

The first two were published posthumously and have been hugely successful in both sales and reviews, the third by a living author has barely received a mention in literary circles. Perhaps this is typical of so many artists and authors who fail to receive just acclaim during their lifetime.

‘Ebenezer Le Page’ by G. B. Edwards is the ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’ of my trio and eminently more enjoyable for my taste. The story of Ebenezer is the whole adult life of a man entrenched in the ethos of a community isolated and excluded then invaded and occupied by the Germans in the second World War. He is dry and astute maintaining narrow interests with strong opinions, very much the Guernsey ‘Donkey’ of stubborn but forthright attributes. The man and the book are vividly accurate portrayals of the period and society on the island of Guernsey in the twentieth century and it rightfully earns it’s place as the bench mark in Guernsey literature.

My only caution would be that, like Lark Rise to Candleford, it can be somewhat laborious in places. True, you are completely immersed and to a non-local this may be an uplifting experience in itself. However, in common with my next choice, the prose overwhelms the plot and this is a book to read for comfort and appreciation rather than thrills or emotional contrasts.

Who could deny the justifiable popularity of ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’?

A beautifully written book by Mary Ann Shafer and published after her passing by her niece. This book is not like Ebenezer in that it lacks the local voice which one cannot help feeling is drowned by a pleasing but unauthentic New England lilt. No ‘Le Pages’ here and the author’s fleeting single visit was insufficient to capture the ‘under the surface’ culture of the island. However, she did manage to capture the atmosphere of the period under German wartime occupation accurately and with sensitivity. This no doubt accounts largely for the success of this novel as many around the world had no idea that this tiny part of Britain, so close to France, was occupied. The epistolary form of this novel works well enough as a device which allows the author to build colourful characters in the absence of a compelling story line. This is achieved successfully and many content readers barely notice the fact. I was so taken up by the characters, I only really missed a plot after I finished and reflected upon what I had read.

Finally ‘Rachel’s Shoe’ is the story of a young Jewish girl rescued from the German labour camp on the island of Alderney, once again during the occupation, by a local boy himself fleeing from the soldiers. Rachel’s Shoe spans around thirty years and the starkest contrast with my two earlier selections is the riveting story line. This is a book you won’t put down and long after you finish the taste will linger on. Peter Lihou lacks the finesse of both G B Edwards and Mary Ann Shafer, but this is like comparing John Grisham with Jane Austen. Personally, I have room for both in my library. I grew fond of the main characters and the villain made my skin crawl. I cried when the island was liberated and my head spun as the story continued into the 1970s.

Out of the three, Rachel’s Shoe is the one that left me wanting a sequel most, just as well as sadly the other authors are no longer able to oblige. Don’t misunderstand, I truly enjoyed Ebenezer’s pithy local realism and the Potato Peel Pie completely satisfied my appetite. But second helpings? No I think not, another plate of pie would be too much for me and I think I now know all I need to about my dear friend Ebenezer. Rachel and Tom on the other hand, well that’s another matter, I very much look forward to meeting them again, despite the well crafted conclusion, there is unfinished business for me here.”

Kate Cavendish
2009 Literary Review
Posted by Kate Cavendish at 3:13 PM

Review first published on TheBookAwards.com website November, 2009.

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