This is a love letter to an island, a paean to Guernsey, which you probably know is an island in the English Channel off the coast of Normandy. It lies roughly north of Saint-Malo and to the west of Jersey and the Cotentin Peninsula. With several smaller nearby islands, it forms a jurisdiction within the Bailiwick of Guernsey, a Crown dependency. The jurisdiction is made up of ten parishes on the island of Guernsey, three other inhabited islands (Herm, Jethou and Lihou), and many small islets and rocks.
The official description: “Ebenezer Le Page, cantankerous, opinionated, and charming, is one of the most compelling literary creations of the late twentieth century. Eighty years old, Ebenezer has lived his whole life on the Channel Island of Guernsey, a stony speck of a place caught between the coasts of England and France yet a world apart from either. Ebenezer himself is fiercely independent, but as he reaches the end of his life he is determined to tell his own story and the stories of those he has known. He writes of family secrets and feuds, unforgettable friendships and friendships betrayed, love glimpsed and lost. The Book of Ebenezer Le Page is a beautifully detailed chronicle of a life, but it is equally an oblique reckoning with the traumas of the twentieth century, as Ebenezer recalls both the men lost to the Great War and the German Occupation of Guernsey during World War II, and looks with despair at the encroachments of commerce and tourism on his beloved island.”
As Ebenezer ages, to allay the lonely nights, he gets the idea to write a book. He writes in French patois and English patois, and his story begins before the turn of the century (the 20th century, that is), with his young boyhood, and takes us through the changing fortunes of the island, to the losses and fears of the First World War, and through the German occupation during the Second World War. Guernsey was the only British soil to be occupied by the Germans, and the privations of that time were daunting. Britain did not want to send food, because it would feed the Germans, and the French tried to send food, but their boats were attacked by the Germans. He tells a story about a pig who was transported from house to house so the Germans could count it, as they were not permitted to butcher their livestock, but to raise it for the Germans. This same tale appears in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which I talk about here.
He rails against tourism, and the greed of the island people, and how although for all its past the island has been a lovely resort for the British people, and the French, now the tourism is focused purely on the relics of the German occupation, which has become quite a claim to fame.
His feelings are those of all older people, I think, that of the grieving of the passing of the old life, of the old ways, but always in praise of the friendliness and openness of the true Guernsey people.
The last portion of the book is about his search for someone to leave his money to. He is an old bachelor, never married, although something of a ladies man in his day. So he spends his time going around visiting a raft of extended family members trying to find someone worthy of his money and little house and property. He has told us earlier that most of Guernsey is related to the rest of Guernsey in one way or another, and speaks often of fourth cousins, or somebody’s somebody’s aunt. He has a number of gold sovereigns buried under the apple tree in his yard, put there when the Germans came, and he feels that their value is now pretty great. Plus he has stashed current cash in several spots throughout the house. He finally finds someone to whom he wants to leave his estate, and goes to a lawyer to draw up the papers. The lawyer advises him that the ownership of the sovereigns is not legal, and surely illegal to pass them on to anyone. He is probably OK with any that are marked before 1836, but after that, they are historic property of the state. But the lawyer promises to do what he can, because the cash and the house and land are certainly of some nice value.
So a story of laying up treasures where moth and rust do not corrupt and thieves do not break in and steal, but the government regulates instead. lol
A great book. A bit long, but interesting nevertheless. I think this was Edwards’ only work of any value, and even then it was published posthumously in 1981. It got a lot of fine reviews and has since been translated into French and Italian.