Since my visit to Guernsey last year I’ve been looking for books to read about the Channel Islands, a small group of islands between England and France. What I found was a large number of books about the Channel Islands’ role in World War II, and not so much about the islands themselves or other periods of history. But there are books to read if you look hard enough…
Note that some of the titles listed are out of print, but should be available from libraries.
Channel Islands Guidebooks
I could find surprisingly few guidebooks for the Channel Islands. However there is the Channel Islands Marco Polo Pocket Guide (with a pullout map), or the Insight Guide, with lots of lavish pictures but perhaps less basic information. Berlitz has pocket guides to Guernsey (which also mentions the islands of Sark, Alderney and Herm), and Jersey.
History and Memoirs
There are very few general histories of the Channel Islands as a whole – most books focus either on their role during the Second World War, or upon individual islands. For individual island histories try Peter Johnston’s A Short History of Guernsey (6th ed, 2014) and Belleine’s History of Jersey by Marguerite Syvret (2011). A classic wartime history is The Channel Islands at War by Robert Bard (2014).
If you are visiting Jersey don’t miss Menagerie Manor by the naturalist Gerald Durrell (1964), a memoir of his quest to establish a zoo on the island (you can still visit the zoo today). A Doctor’s Occupation by John Lewis is a firsthand account of a doctor’s life in Jersey during the German occupation. Another intriguing memoir is Dame of Sark: An Autobiography by Sibyl Hathaway (1961) – it is out of print but worth a read if you can find a copy. Hathaway was the ruler of the tiny privately owned island of Sark from 1927 to 1974 and the book is an extraordinary account of a modern feudal society.
Novels Set in the Channel Islands
Most of the novels on this list are based in Guernsey – I’m not sure why it should be more popular with writers than the other islands.
- The novelist Victor Hugo lived on Guernsey during his exile from France, and you can still visit his house in St Peter Port. His novel Toilers of the Sea takes place in the early 19th century and looks at the effect of the Industrial Revolution upon the island.
- The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G B Edwards (1981) is a fictionalised authobiography of a Guernsey countryman from the late 19th century to the 1960s, a time of substantial social change.
- Island Song by Madeleine Bunting (2019) is a multi-layered novel of art theft, family secrets, and living under the German occupation, set in present-day England and wartime Guernsey.
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (2008) probably needs no introduction to most readers. It is a heart-warming and easy to read story of the German occupation, told through the medium of letters.
- A classic detective novel is Last Ditch by Ngaio Marsh (1977), which is concerned with drug smuggling in the Channel Islands.
- Another detective novelist is Lara Dearman. Her first novel Devil’s Claw (2017) is set in Guernsey, and her forthcoming title Dark Sky Island (2020) is based on Sark.
- Island Madness by Tim Binding (1998) is a thriller set in Guernsey during the Second World War.
- Night of the Fox by Jack Higgins (1986) is a spy thriller based on Jersey during the war.
- And if you have a taste of the fantastical, try Mr Pye by Mervyn Peake (1953), a mystical novel in which the crusading Mr Pye travels to Sark.
Children’s books based in the Channel Islands were particularly hard to find, but I managed to come up with a few:
- Young children may like the Tales of Teddy Typhoon picture books – Tower Island and The Dirty Old Tub – by Alistair Macrae.
- Based on a number of true stories, A Cake For The Gestapo by Jacqueline King (2020) is the fictional account of a gang of children during wartime Jersey.
- We Couldn’t Leave Dinah by Mary Treadgold (1941), set on a fictional island in the Channel, is about a pony club during the Second World War.
- La Société Jersiaise has published a number of children’s history books with titles like Jersey’s Sailors and Pirates, or Jersey Long Ago.
As always, if you have any more titles to add to this list, I’d love to hear from you.
Most of the books on this list are available via my Amazon Storefront.