In 1946, journalist Juliet Ashton stumbles across the group when she receives a letter from member Dawsey Adams, who found her name in the flyleaf of selected writings of Charles Lamb, and wants to know if she can recommend any more books by the author.
Charmed by the society’s name (who wouldn’t be?), she writes back asking for the history of the group and enclosing another book by Lamb. A gaggle of Guernseyites respond, from herbalist Isola, who loves the Brontës; to Booker, a Seneca-reading Jewish valet, who survived the war by masquerading as an English lord.
Missing, though, is the group’s founder, the stalwart Elizabeth, who was arrested and sent to France. Elizabeth, who loved to quote a poem by Matthew Arnold that begins, “Is it so small a thing/ To have enjoy’d the sun,” left behind a baby girl the rest of the Society is raising.
As the letters fly back and forth over the Channel, Juliet becomes more and more invested in the Society and almost as desperate as they are to learn what happened to Elizabeth. She’s been feeling adrift since the war ended. Her flat was bombed during the Blitz, and she’s between jobs. During the war, she wrote a humorous newspaper column that’s been turned into a book called “Izzy Bickerstaff Goes to War.” But she has no idea what to write now.
At first, I was afraid I’d stumbled into “Bridget Jones: The War Years” (especially when Juliet hurls a teapot at a reporter early on). Happily, the novel I was most frequently reminded of was Helene Hanff’s “84, Charing Cross Road” – and anything that brings that lovely book to mind is well worth recommending.