This review contains spoilers for the book, so please don’t read this until you’ve finished the book, if you plan on reading it.
This is a wonderful book. It is about a young female writer who goes on to discover a wonderful story of another person whom she will never get to meet. It is about enduring human strength in the face of pain and suffering during War.
The colourful cast of characters is one of my most favourite things about this book. Out of all the beautifully portrayed people, my favourite is Isola. She made me laugh so many times, and I love that when we first meet her, she was a “witch”. She’s the perfect anti-thesis to Adelaide Addison (another well-written character). Eben is my second favourite character. His letters make him sound like he’s full of wisdom. He is the type of person I would go to for advice.
All of the important characters felt real to me. Even though I knew that this is a work of fiction, the things that people wrote about in their letters felt real.
The story was also gripping. Before I knew enough about Elizabeth, I was already invested in Juliet’s story. I wanted to know more about this woman who apparently broke off an engagement to a man who later died in the war. I wanted to know why she’d broken off the engagement, so I kept reading… but once I got to know the islanders of Guernsey, the reason for Juliet’s broken engagement didn’t seem to matter so much anymore. I was enthralled by the mystery of what happened to Elizabeth and whether we would ever meet Elizabeth for ourselves through Juliet.
Even after we find out Juliet’s death through Remy, I still held out hope… I guess because Remy’s account was not an eyewitness account and perhaps Elizabeth was somehow rescued and the story of her execution was a lie. Honestly even after I’ve now finished the story, I still hope.
One of my favourite parts of the book is Eben’s first letter to Juliet. How he describes his thoughts when he saw the German soldiers landing. He thought “damn them, damn them, damn them.” I could completely relate the to the helplessness of that moment, as I personally find myself victim to such refrains in times of stress and helplessness. I loved it. It made Eben feel real to me. My heart went out to him.
The book made me laugh AND cry. I laughed out loud at Adelaide Addison’s letters. The ridiculousness of that woman. I was kind of hoping that Juliet would reply to her, but I guess Juliet is a better person than I am.
When we find out through Remy that Elizabeth was executed, I cried. I had to put down the book and go do something else. I couldn’t keep on reading. It’s not that I no longer wanted to read the book because Elizabeth was dead; I just felt like someone I cared deeply about had died and I needed a moment. I felt such loss for a beautiful person like Elizabeth. And then I felt sad for all those who came to trust in her survival. All the people Elizabeth touched and saved. It just felt like there was no justice. But I suppose that’s what the book is trying to tell us, right? That there is no justice in war. That people like Adelaide Addison and Billie Bee Jones should have survived the war but people like Elizabeth had died—no justice in a war at all. Even writing this out now is getting me sappy again for the loss of Elizabeth—a fictional character!
I can’t forget to mention another favourite thing though. The Love of Books so permeated this story. It was books that brought the Society together, sure, a lie about books, but a lie they made into a truth because of how wonderful they came to realise books actually were. When Eben wrote about how he might had felt better if he had the words from Shakespeare: “the bright day is done and we are for the dark,” that really got to me. Eben pointed out how reading a piece of literature gave him the ability to come to terms with things easier than he could have done before. For me that is how I feel about books, about reading. For that I love Eben’s character and I love the theme of this book.
There isn’t anything I actually dislike about the book. Even the one thing that I wish was different (that Elizabeth was alive) would have made this book not as endearing as it currently is. If Elizabeth was found alive, this book would somehow be less than what is now, which is a beautiful eulogy, a tribute, to people like Elizabeth.