If You Loved The Guernsay Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society Don’t Read Any Further. I’m About To Ruin It For You.

Everyone has been agog over the debut novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I’ve noticed many of you in Blog World have read it and loved it. I have friends (and a sister) who have recommended it. I finally picked it up.

And I hate it.

Oh. It is a lovely story. It has lovely writing. It’s just that I’ve read it before.

Has anyone out there read 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff? No? A charming, engaging, wonderful novel first published in 1970. It was then re-created for stage and film, starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins. (But don’t see the film. As wonderful as it is, as wonderful as Bancroft and Hopkins are – the book is so much better.)

The similarities between these two novels is jarring. Distracting, even. So much so, that I’m beginning to resent Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows for borrowing so much from a book so loved. A book published a mere 40 years ago. (Did I just say ‘mere’? Oh, man, am I old!)

Similar plots. Universal themes. I totally get that authors borrow from the classics. But they borrow the “boy meets girl, girl plays hard to get, boy wins girl in the end” kinds of plots. Or the universal themes of love conquering all or good beating out evil. The general idea. Not specifics.

Here. I’ll show you what I mean.

84 Charing Cross Road – post World War II, focuses on a time period of lacking, wanting and re-building, a main character who is an outspoken, female accomplished writer, a protagonist who is so inspired by the people on the other end of the postal line that her life is changed forever, written in correspondence style between (mainly) a woman and a man with an underlying hint that they feel a bit more than a platonic kinship, they are brought together based on their love of books, they share the difficulties of their lives, they try to help each other, they attempt to meet.

 The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – post World War II, focuses on a time period of lacking, wanting and re-building, a main character who is an outspoken, female accomplished writer, a protagonist who is so inspired by the people on the other end of the postal line that her life is changed forever, written in correspondence style between (mainly) a woman and a man with an underlying hint that they feel a bit more than a platonic kinship, they are brought together based on their love of books, they share the difficulties of their lives, they try to help each other, they attempt to meet. (embarrassing note: I did not think to copy and paste. I actually re-typed the entire description. What an idiot I am. Maybe you shouldn’t listen to me, after all.)

See any similarities?

Oh, sure. There are differences. But not enough to keep me reading. I’m so annoyed at the flagrant plagiarism of a style/content/idea – I just can’t. And I am surprised that I’m the only one to think so.

Ahhhh, but I’m not.

“But most distressing of all, it borrows heavily from the truly original style and humor of 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff.” Amazon review.

And there are many other reviews out there that point to this similarity (just not quite as negatively as I do): “with an obvious wink to the classic 84 Charing Cross Road“, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is going to be this year’s 84, Charing Cross Road” (gag me), “marvelous debut…. Reminiscent of Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road” (gag me with spoon, reminiscent?!), “Told in epistolary form this book is comparable to 84 Charing Cross Road“, “Comparisons to 84, Charing Cross Road are common and also well-deserved” – You get the point.

If you haven’t read 84 Charing Cross Road and you never will, then The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society will be a wonderful book. But if you’ve read TGLAPPPS and now you’re intrigued and want to read 84 Charing Cross Road? I’m afraid you may be disappointed. And that is sad. Because 84 Charing Cross Road was here first.

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21 Comments

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21 responses to “If You Loved The Guernsay Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society Don’t Read Any Further. I’m About To Ruin It For You.

  1. What a disappointment for you. I have not read either one. If I decide to read one, I’ll choose the original and not the copycat.

  2. Originals are always the best. I wonder when TGLAPPPS is adapted for stage and film if there will be even more similarities?

  3. Assholery! Just for you, I will read the original but not the facsimile.

  4. I second TheKitchenWitch….I will read the original. Well, actually, I will listen to it on Audible…but still.

  5. Jane, thank you! I only wish I had read this post a week ago. I just finished Guernsey and really enjoyed it, having never heard of 84 and all of those similarities. But, as a stickler for integrity, I am distressed to learn of the not-so-subtle coincidences. What’s a girl to do?

  6. I can’t agree. I’ve read both and loved both — and I read the first one first. For me, the first one was not only in epistolary form, but it was about how intense relationships can be formed only through letters. The second was epistolary but did not remain confined to letters. I’m not arguing with your experience, just saying mine was different. And I find it sort of upsetting to hear people who haven’t read both now agreeing with you before they’ve read both. Primary sources — go to the primary sources! :)

  7. Your review actually makes me really intrigued to read both – a comparative literature experiment of some sort I suppose.

    I wonder what Helene Hanff would have made of all this?

  8. Wow, I’m sorry you’re so disappionted in a book. I hate when that happens. Usually it’s books people love too. I hope the next book you escape into is better.

  9. unabridgedgirl

    Huh. I’ve not heard of either of these books, but now you have me curious.

  10. Mel

    Oh well, I guess we can’t be internet friends :)
    I love 84 Charring Cross Road, the book and the movie and I love TGLaPPPS and I wrote this review last year:

    I enjoyed the story, the characters, the historical connections and the reminiscence of 84 Charring Cross Road. A sweet, sentimental book.

    I loved that it made me curious about an island I didn’t even know existed, I’m amazed how charming and out of time the islands still seem today. I looked at this book as a throwback to an earlier era of writing, sort of like watching a black and white movie, maybe. It was my book group’s favorite read of the year, but that’s not saying a lot because we had a few ho-hum selections.

    To each their own, yes? It’s funny but reading The Help made me think of TGLaPPPS because of the similarities between the protagonists.

    Happy reading!

  11. I feel so inadequate. If I told you the last two books I read, you’d think I was a completely intellectual zero!

  12. i really liked the potatoe peel book. i also wish i had known about the original potato…sucky deal. i agree tkw assholery. potato in your ass holery…

  13. well, I read your post even tho I saw the warning. I don’t love the Guernsey book any less.

    It’s a great book.

    I haven’t read the 84 book. Probably won’t.

    I’m not saying you don’t have an interesting argument. However, there are many more that just the Guernsey story that mirror old classics. To begin to travel down that road tho .. well, it could become more than you bargained for.

  14. Interesting opinion, Jane. I have read neither books (although you have piqued my interest), but I can somewhat relate to what you experienced.

    Have you read/heard of the Story of Edgar Sawtelle? It was an interesting read, one that churned the wheels in my noggin, yet it was somewhat, well, lame. I couldn’t get over the copied story line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Yes, many authors have done this, however literary critics have sought to name “Edgar Sawtelle” as the next “Great American Classic.” My opinion? I hope the next “Great American Classic” is more original. (Still, I am glad I read both books.)

  15. Thanks for the heads up. I won’t make the same mistake now!

    jj

  16. These are not books that I would normally be drawn to so no worries about your post swaying me either way. Just want to say: You are so HAWT when you are mad.

  17. I didn’t read this post until today because I finished the Potato Peel Society book last night. Now I’m going to go read 84 Charing Cross Road. I thought Potato Peel was good, but a bit predictable.

  18. harmony

    Just wanted to clarify with you that 84 Charriing Cross Rd. is not a novel but a collection of real-life correspondence.

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