This month I will be visiting one of my favourite islands – Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. The lovely painting above by Pierre-Auguste Renoir depicts Children on the Beach of Guernsey (1883). Islands have often inspired wonderful works of literature – think of Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, Coral Island, Lord of the Flies, Anne of the Island, And Then there were None and The Tempest, to name just a few. Guernsey is no exception. In 2008 the epistolary novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows was published and was a bestseller. Thousands of tourists made their way to Guernsey to see the places described so delightfully in the book. The islanders, however, were not so enthusiastic – they felt the book was not entirely accurate, did not use typical island names, and in many ways did not ring true. There were plans to make a movie out of it, but production was delayed until 2013, and nothing has happened since then, so it is not looking promising.
I have just finished reading a book that the people of Guernsey find much more accurate in describing their history. The Book of Ebenezer le Page by Gerald Basil Edwards is a novel that was published in 1981. It is a fictionalised autobiography of Guernseyman Ebenezer, who lives through WWI, the occupation of the island by the Nazis in WWII, who falls in love with the flirtatious Liza Queripel and who forms a close friendship with Jim Mahy. He leaves the island once – to go and watch a football game on neighbouring Jersey. The tenacity, insularity, loyalty and fierce independence of the Guernsey people are superbly portrayed. It was a book I felt I ought to read because I am about to take a literary tour group to Guernsey, but I am so delighted I felt that obligation. It was a compelling piece of writing that I will not soon forget.
William Golding said of this book “To read it is not like reading but living”, while other critics called it “a masterpiece”, “startlingly original”, “compelling” and “breathtaking”. You might like to spend time in Guernsey with fisherman and tomato-grower Ebenezer and see if you enjoy his rather crotchety company as much as I did.
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