Saturday, 11 October 2008
IT MUST have been particularly galling for Mary Ann Shaffer that she died before she could finish her first and only novel.
More galling for her readers. Shaffer's characters are so vivid that you sigh with regret as you finish their story.
She decided to write about Guernsey after getting stuck in the airport there, where she kept herself warm under the hand-dryer in the men's toilets.
There (not in the actual toilets) she found Jersey Under the Jack-Boot, and discovered to her astonishment that the Channel Islands had been occupied by the Germans during World War II.
Born in West Virginia, Shaffer spent a lifetime working in libraries, bookshops and publishing.
Eight years before she died, she started to write the story that haunted her.
It was finished in draft when she discovered that she had abdominal cancer, and asked her niece, children's writer Annie Barrows, to tie up the loose ends.
This is the story: after the war, a brittle London columnist finds herself in correspondence, first with a Guernsey pig farmer who has bought a book she once owned and seeks more by the same author, then with other members of his book club.
An innocent opening, which leads dreamily into the realities - including the horrors - of that German occupation. And to love, death, moral questions and the whole lot.
It's a winter book, the kind for a big leather armchair, a turf fire and a glass of hot port.