Summary: A story told in letters about the people on the island of Guernsey during the German Occupation of World War II. It’s also about finding where you truly belong, a family among strangers.
First Sentence: Dear Sidney, Susan Scott is a wonder.
I started reading this book and watching the Netflix movie at the same time, and both had me hooked from the beginning. I finished watching the movie that day, but the book took me a little bit longer. Because I started them both at the same time, I don’t know that I could write a review of one without writing a review of the other at the same time. There will probably be details from the story revealed, so please do not continue reading unless you’ve either read the book or watched the movie or if you really want/need to know.
The first thing I want to talk about is the format of the book. This story is told in letters, and it was the perfect vehicle to tell it. The letters weren’t just from one or two characters, there were letters from side characters and short telegrams. Reading letters from the side characters really made them real in ways that might not have been possible in such a short book. We hear their voice and the ways in which they choose to tell their story. In short, the letters brought the whole story to life. Everything felt real. And it made me wish that I had someone to write letters to. When I was in college, I used to write my Memere letters. She was going pretty deaf, so talking on the phone was just a lot of yelling, but letters would let her know what was going on in my life when I couldn’t see her in person.
Between the movie and the book, there were two major differences, but they didn’t stop my equal enjoyment of both. The first is timing. The second is the size of the cast of characters.
In the movie, most of the interactions take place in person, which makes a lot of sense. Watching people write and read letters and such would not have the same effect as reading a book written in letters. With movies, I feel like we don’t use our imagination as much as we do when we read books. Reading gives you the freedom to imagine anything while you are reading. We are given the outline of what to see and get to fill in the blanks. It makes the story feel so much more personal. In the book, so much happens before Juliet even arrives on the island of Guernsey, and she doesn’t feel like such an outsider to the other members of the literary society because they have been writing to each other for some time. This is a huge difference between the two, but each change feels necessary to the format the story is told in.
The movie has a smaller cast of characters than the book. This was a pleasant surprise for me when I read the book. I loved all the characters in the movie and didn’t feel like there was any sort of deficiency in the fullness of the story. The book introduced more characters, but I felt like I got to know all of them so well through the letters they exchanged. It’s funny, when I was growing up I was very particular about book to movie adaptations. I expected all the details to remain the same, and became very upset when this wasn’t the case, which was every single adaptation. Sometimes it’s not possible to translate everything from a book into a movie. As I’ve grown up, I have realized that a story can be many things. (I think the wonderful world of fanfiction has helped more than a little with this change.) The important thing is the feeling that you get while enjoying either one or the other. And I got nothing but good, gooey feelings from both.
One final thing, while the big moment at the end takes place in different circumstances, the words spoken are the same, and they are absolutely perfect. Also, can we talk about how amazing Lily James is? This is the 4th movie that I’ve seen her in, and she’s been amazing in every role.
Next book: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman