28 May 2016 Susannah

The Book of Ebenezer le Page

Children on the Beach of Guernsey (1883) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. image

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.

The Book of Ebenezer le Page first edition cover

The Book of Ebenezer le Page first edition cover

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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Featured image credit- Children on the Beach of Guernsey (1883) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=640356
Body image credit- The Book of Ebenezer le Page first edition cover. Derived from a digital capture (photo/scan) of the book cover. Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20191720

Comments (6)

  1. Ruth

    During my visit to Guernsey a few years ago, the fierce and parochial pride locals have for their small island was brought home to me by an elderly gentleman who had experienced life under wartime occupation and had no time at all for the “other island” represented by Jersey. I can well believe the partisan feelings of Ebenezer le Page, whose name is definitely rooted in his Guernsey heritage.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Ruth. Yes, there is huge pride and also great rivalry with Jersey. I think you would enjoy The Book of Ebenezer le Page.

  2. Peter Adman

    On our last visit to Guernsey this September (2016) we came across a copy of this book “Ebenizer Le Page” which we bought. We now find that apparently a movie was made of the book around year 2010 (?) with Kieran Knightly as the love interest. Can somebody, PLEASE, PLEASE help us with any information regarding the film?

    By the way, by coincidence my wife’s mother’s name was Le Page (a common name in Guernsey) the same as the fictional main character in the book. She left the island on the day Germans invaded the island. So you can imagine how desperate we are to find about the film version of this book. Any help would be hugely appreciated.

    Peter

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I wish I could help you but I have never heard a thing about a film being made and surely if Keira Knightley was in it, there would have been lots of publicity. I actually cannot imagine her as Ebenezer’s love as I find she is always Keira Knightley rather than the character she should be, but oh how I wish someone would make a good film version of that wonderful novel. And how fascinating to have a family connection with the same name. Isn’t it a suoerb novel!

  3. Patrick

    Ah yes, there’s no one as parochial as a lifetime expatriate and at 82 I have lived in many parts of the world since first being evacuated from Guernsey as a 5 year old in June 1940. Now I have been encouraged/pressed to read the GL&PPPS which I have found quite detached from the memories I have of returning in 1945 to tough conditions and battles to recreate family and other relationships severed by 5 years. I have Googled to search out islander opinion to GL&PPPS and found some here in your review. I am well aware of how much I am influenced by my long time love of the Ebenezer Le Page saga and his comment that it was not the German Occupation but the English Occupation which broke the islander spirit. Not really fair to criticise Shaffer for being facile about this because it was almost 40 years later when she visited but I found the book unsatisfying. Have just read that there’s a film being made but that there will be no filming on Guernsey! Can this be true? Says it all really

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks for your thoughtful and interesting comments, Patrick.
      Yes, there is to be a film version of the GL &PPPS book, but I hadn’t heard that none of the filming was done on Guernsey. That is dreadful. I had a most fascinating meeting with some of the islanders to discuss the book, and most did not like it. They felt it was not a genuine account of life in Guernsey during and just after the war. I think they are pleased that the book has brought tourists to the island, but would have been more pleased had it been Ebenezer le Page and his memorable story that had achieved that.
      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this. You come from a most beautiful part of the world.

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