Books to Read Before You Visit the Channel Islands

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A note to my readers: The world is still dealing with Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, and it will be a long time before we can travel freely again. For many of us that will mean staycations and more local travel, but I will continue posting new content for you to read at home and to inspire your future travels. Happy reading and stay safe!

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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.

Secret Guernsey by Amanda Bennett is a more quirky guide to island culture. And walkers can enjoy walking guides from Cicerone – choose from Jersey or Guernsey (including Alderney, Sark and Herm).

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.

Gardens and church of La Seigneurie
The gardens of La Seigneurie, the home of the Dame of Sark

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.
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  • 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

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.

Some suggested reading before you visit the Channel Islands
Pinnable image of books to read before you visit the Channel Islands

Most of the books on this list are available via my Amazon Storefront.

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4 thoughts on “Books to Read Before You Visit the Channel Islands”

  1. You have assembled quite a thorough list of books to read, before visiting the Channel Islands. In this period of travel restrictions, these books will help travelers picture the destination until they can see it firsthand.

  2. One of these years, I’ll go out and explore these islands with so much history and natural beauty to enjoy and discover.

  3. Securing a good guidebook for a destination, and reading an interesting novel set amid the sights that will be seen enhance any trip. You have some great suggestions here for the Channel Islands, even some for children.

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Karen Warren

WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…

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